Expert Analyses: Karnataka Assembly Polls 2023: Outcome and its National Significance

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Expert Analyses: Karnataka Assembly Polls 2023: Outcome and its National Significance

Voting for Karnataka assembly polls 2023 concluded on Wednesday evening. It was largely peaceful with an impressive turnout of over 72.68%. The contest for the 224 seats is between the ruling BJP, rival Congress and state party JD(S).

Five of 10 exit polls have predicted so, however the majority of them have given a slight edge to the Congress. The predictions also indicate that HD Kumaraswamy's Janata Dal Secular is likely to play kingmaker. The majority mark in the 224-seat assembly is 113 seats.

The stakes are high for the ruling BJP and much higher for the opposition Congress, which is hoping to come back to power.


Loss in Karnataka would upset the BJP’s southern state vision

Should the projections of a Congress win hold, the BJP will have lost the only southern state that it has in its kitty.

Karnataka sends as many as 28 members to the Lok Sabha, second only to Tamil Nadu at 39, and, losing the state would come as a setback for the BJP and its plans to extend its electoral footprint beyond Karnataka.

While losing Karnataka would dent the BJP's claim of being a pan-India party, it would give the much need shot in the arm to the Congress as it eyes a revival in 2024 after a string of electoral reverses.  Most political experts and pollsters are of the opinion that winning Karnataka would be the key to building a good head of steam ahead of the bigger battle in 2024 and going into the next general elections full of belief and conviction.

Led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the BJP has been trying to woo the Christian community in Kerala as part of its long-term goal of making deeper electoral inroads in a state where it remains a fringe force. In Tamil Nadu and Telangana, the BJP's state chiefs -- Aannamalai and Bandi Sanjay -- have been waging aggressive campaigns against the ruling parties -- the DMK and the BRS -- in the hope of turning the tables at the next battle for the hustings.

Telangana is scheduled to go to polls later this year.

However, a loss in Karnataka would upset the BJP's long-term vision of making a deeper southern ingress and take them back to the drawing board ahead of the next Lok Sabha elections.

On the other hand, a victory in Karnataka would see Congress national president Mallikarjun Kharge deliver a big-ticket electoral win to the high command, giving the grand old party a fresh burst of wind in its sails as it bids to turn the tables on the BJP in the next Lok Sabha elections.

With Karanataka also being his home turf, a win for the Congress would, in many ways, come as redemption for the octogenarian Dalit leader, who had previously lost the race for CM despite his party coming to power.


2024 Lok Sabha election is open

Writing prior the the declaration of results, Yogendra Yadav (activist, psephologist and politician) states “if the exit polls are not completely off the mark, it invites us to ask a big question: Is there a template in this potential Congress victory that can be carried over to other states and possibly to the 2024 Lok Sabha election?”

There is also “some noise about whether the defeat of the BJP in Karnataka foreshadows its performance in the 2024 Lok Sabha election. Congress enthusiasts may rush to declare the beginning of the end of the BJP. Anchors and BJP spokespersons (it is often hard to tell them from one another) would point out that the logic of state elections does not work for national elections. It is true that the Karnataka outcome may not influence the voters even in the neighbouring Telangana, let alone the rest of India. And there is no guarantee that assembly election trends will carry on till the Lok Sabha election, even in Karnataka.

“The real significance of the electoral verdict in Karnataka would be that it keeps the 2024 election open. A re-election of the incumbent BJP would psychologically seal the fate of the opposition and induce a walkover even before the big match begins. A Congress victory would serve as a timely reminder that the BJP is not invincible. It would keep the momentum of the ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’ (Unity March)  alive. It would also assure the party worker that a direct Modi versus Rahul Gandhi match is not destined to end in the former’s victory. No more, no less.”


Key takeaways

Besides keeping the door open for 2024, Yadav argues “a Congress victory in Karnataka may also show a path that leads to this door, an outline of a template that the opposition needs….”

Importantly, the outcome “proves that communal mobilisation does not always trump….” It also shows shows that “class and gender mattered more than anything else. The Congress enjoys a 5 percentage point lead over the BJP among men but 11 point lead among women….” And “the poorer the voter, the higher the vote for the Congress.”

Finally, Karnataka polls “show that the opposition does not need any magical tricks to defeat Modi in 2024. The template for the opposition is ridiculously simple: Keep the focus on real issues, address the bottom of the pyramid in their language, and work relentlessly, 24×365. The BJP would do the rest.”


BJP:  a grass roots organisation that will help it in 2024

But the BJP cannot be written off so easily. As could be seen in Karnataka, the BJP messaging is non-stop, with the string of events marking 100 episodes of Modi’s monthly radio programme ‘Mann ki Baat’ (Speaking from the heart)  a perfect example. It was a snapshot of the now nine years of the Modi government, a national platform for its various schemes, and an image-enhancing exercise for the PM himself – in the midst of a crucial election.

Plus, writes Lia Mathew (Deputy Political Editor, The Indian Express) “it set the ground for the BJP’s 2024 Lok Sabha  election campaign, which is already ticking along. In Karnataka, particularly, the party has ensured that the intense Assembly campaign was also used to reach out to voters for the big battle next year. As per some ‘vistaraks’ or full-time workers, ’50% of the work for 2024 is already done’.”

The ‘vistaraks’ in Karnataka detail how they had been assigned the talk of explaining to voters why the BJP had taken a particular stance on an issue. For example, a party worker gave the example of connecting voters to the ‘vishwaguru’ (global guru) tag for Modi. 'The people are happy to know that PM Modi is a global leader, and earns respect as a ‘vishwaguru’. But, after sometime, they can ask how it is of any concern to them. So we tell them that PM Modi’s credibility and acceptability help attract investments from across the globe, and in turn create jobs for their children.’

This message of keeping the big picture in mind, writes Mathew  “is visible among workers down the line across Karnataka. Any ardent BJP supporter can give you arguments on why the rise in fuel prices, inflation or joblessness are justified, as well as how Modi has raised India’s stature in the world.”

Apart from Karnataka, the ‘vistaraks’ have been at work in the eight other states which will be seeing elections this year. In January, the BJP deputed them in every Assembly seat in these states, apart from the 160 Lok Sabha constituencies it earlier identified as ones needing an extra push for the 2024 elections.

They undergo regular training sessions, where the BJP updates them on what the party wants them to highlight during their interactions.

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