The Assembly election results in the southern Indian state of Karnataka this week sent out strong signals to what both the Congress Party and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) must do to be successful in the general election next year.
When BJP won the state in 2008, it was considered to be a big achievement for the party given that its traditional stronghold has been in northern India.
Five years later, however, the party is now relegated to the third position; the electorate in Karnataka evidently does not consider the BJP fit enough to be the main Opposition party, which is the hub of the IT industry and a dynamic face of modern India. The party won only 40 seats out of 224 compared to the 110 seats it won in 2008. Its vote share came down to 21 percent from over 40 percent five years earlier.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
How can one explain this abysmal showing in one of south India’s most significant states? What impact it will have on the party’s fortunes in the upcoming general election next year?
The conventional political analysis is that the Hindutva party’s poor showing was the result of its misgovernance and indulgence in large scale corruption that led to the removal of its most popular Chief Minister, B S Yeddyurappa. The BJP had to change Chief Ministers three times in the span of five years, and several of its ministers were jailed under graft charges. A frontline state known for its robust economic growth became a byword for corruption.
But one school of thought believes that the BJP paid the price for turning the Karnataka into a Hindutva laboratory and attempting to alter the secular and cosmopolitan ethos of the state
The BJP paid the price for underestimating the sensibilities of voters and undermining the liberal tradition of the state.
For the Congress party the verdict in south India has been a much needed victory and it comes at a time when the Grand Old Party is besieged with a plethora of problems related to misgovernance and corruption charges against several top Cabinet ministers.
Indeed, over the last year the party has been in throes of a series of crises. The constant demands for Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh to resign and the BJP’s constant disruptions in Parliament have paralyzed the government.
The victory in Karnataka,therefore, serves as a big morale booster for the Congress. It managed to win 121 seats out of 224 in an election that witnessed the emergence of Janata Dal (Secular), which ultimately became the main Opposition Party in the state, taking 40 seats.
However, the irony is that the party’s return to power in Bangalore, the state capital, after twelve years, is somewhat bittersweet — the verdict demonstrates that people are willing to trust the Congress party provided it mends its ways and addresses the issue of governance in a serious manner. Failing that, the party awaits the same fate in the national capital that BJP met in Bangalore.