Karnataka poll results dispel notions of Narendra Modi's waning popularity, fortify BJP's 2019 prospects

In the humdinger of a poll that the Karnataka Assembly elections finally turned out to be after Bharatiya Janata Party leaders prematurely claimed "victory", there is no certainty as yet on whether or not Omar Abdullah's prophecy will come true.

While a clear majority would have put this question beyond the pale of doubt, the BJP's emergence as the single-largest party still does not dent the party's position as favourites to win another tenure at the Centre.

There however, may yet be a slip between the cup and lip. The BJP might have to sit in Opposition if the final round of dice does not roll in its favour and the Congress convinces Janata Dal (S) that it is prudent for the sake of its future to stay with a 'secular' coalition than a 'communal' one. But the BJP's emergence as the single largest party is surely a shot in its arm.

The lead of the BJP over the Congress party in Karnataka while not being stunning enough, settles several things, most importantly the continuing popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It is evident that his 'last mile' campaigning played a significant role in the Congress losing seats significantly.

This was an election in which the Congress was more confident than the BJP but the result shows that somehow Modi prevented a Congress 'victory'. This was perhaps sensed by Siddaramaiah who came out with the statement, "I am okay with a Dalit chief minister" out of the blue.

BJP workers celebrate with a cut-out of BS Yeddyurappa. PTI

BJP workers celebrate with a cut-out of BS Yeddyurappa. PTI

The verdict also settles doubts over whether party president Amit Shah had lost the Midas touch and if he was no longer the astute electoral manager-cum-strategist rolled into one he was till last year when the BJP blew a veritable tornado across Uttar Pradesh.

Make no mistake, on the basis of the vote share available at the time of writing, the Congress did not do badly. Siddaramaiah, now most likely the outgoing chief minister, has not been decisively voted out because of an anti-incumbent sentiment.

There will be only a few post-mortem reports on the performance of the Congress which will be harsh on its president, Rahul Gandhi and the state leadership. For once, they made no mistake and managed to keep motor-mouths in the party with staggering capacity to shoot self-goals repeatedly completely out of campaigning and stay light years away from the electoral discourse. Gandhi even spoke the right things at the same time.

Indeed, the Congress and its leaders did well. What made the difference is that Modi and his team did it better!

Consider for instance, the dynamic vote share of the Congress since morning on the Election Commission website. It ranged from close to 38 percent at its best and slipped to around 36 percent at the lowest.

If one frames an average of this, against what the Congress polled in 2013, 36.59 percent, it is evident that the party has not done badly.

What has happened instead is that the BJP has done better. In 2013, the BJP had a share of 19.89 percent but this was a party that was minus Lingayat strongman, BS Yeddyurappa and tribal leader, B Sriramulu.

In 2013, they acted as veritable freethinkers with an intention to bleed the BJP, and they did: Yeddyurappa's Karnataka Janata Paksha polled 9.79 percent votes and won six seats while Sriramulu's outfit, Badavara Shramikara Raitara Congress Party, bagged 2.69 percent votes and won four seats. The result would have been different if the three had not parted ways — the combined 32.39 percent would have fetched the BJP more seats that the fifty seats the three parties won separately.

In fact, computer simulations showed that there would not have been much to differentiate between the BJP and the Congress and the latter would have fallen short of majority.

The eventual difference in vote share of the BJP and the Congress this time is likely to be almost less than half of what it was in 2013 (BJP+KJP+BSRCP) — 4.2 percent. But the significant gap in the number of seats between the two parties indicates that the BJP did their homework better. Clearly, the party appears to have paid greater attention to candidate selection. Vote share of the Congress remaining about the same suggests that the party's votes were 'wasted' while the BJP targeted seats where it had a chance of success.

The immediate effect the Karnataka verdict will be that the contest in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh will turn out keener than where it was poised till now.

It will also make the call for formation of an anti-BJP front louder. Rahul Gandhi had made a bid for the prime minister's post during campaign. But he will have to scale down ambitions and announce this at the earliest.

The nature of campaigning of the BJP in Karnataka and the results it has achieved, also shows that it is time for Rahul Gandhi to learn a few more tricks.

Follow live updates on the Karnataka Assembly Election 2018 here.


Updated Date: May 15, 2018 16:24 PM

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