We are now in for years of uncertainty
It appears that the theatrical effect of the prime minister’s speeches made a difference. I don’t think the attempt to emphasize communal polarization by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) helped very much. It is more the theatrical excitement of Modi, when he comes and speaks, that may have made a difference.
The BJP did gain from the Lingayats and among Left-leaning Dalits, concentrated largely in Bombay Karnataka, Hyderabad Karnataka and some parts of central Karnataka. Historically, these have been the regions which decided who gets to rule Karnataka. If you look at the southern districts, Congress came as a poor third behind the other parties.
The BJP chose to campaign not picking up the best issues, yet they succeeded. It shows Amit Shah did succeed in strengthening the organization—the BJP organization has been rather weak in rural areas. Many parts of the state were affected by three years of drought, especially the irrigation-fed agriculture of the southern districts, and Congress has paid a big price there.
The Congress did not actually lose in terms of the vote share but its votes are spread evenly across the state, whereas the votes for the BJP and the Janata Dal (Secular), or JD(S), are concentrated in different regions of the state. And this has happened before, in 2008, when the Congress got far fewer seats than its vote share seemed to justify, as it is now.
The importance of this election in the national picture is very limited in my opinion. The Lok Sabha election will be decided in states where the BJP governs. It has to defend its record in power. The BJP had a luxury in Karnataka as they were attacking a sitting government. In 20 other states, its record and Modi’s record will decide the election.
For Karnataka, we are now in for years of uncertainty. If the BJP forms the government, we can expect an incompetent, bungling government from Yeddyurappa, until he is pushed aside for a hardline Hindutva leader. If the Congress enters into an alliance with the JD(S), it may collapse if the BJP does well in the Lok Sabha if the alliance gets destabilized by infighting.
James Manor is a professor at the School of Advanced Study, London.