The Karnataka assembly election has not given a clear mandate to any party to form the next government. This might mean three things: a coalition government of the Congress and Janata Dal Secular or JD(S) combine, with JD(S) taking the big slice; the governor inviting the largest party to form the government and prove its majority on the floor; engineering a split in the JD(S) by way of “Operation Kamala" to make way for the formation of a government. The BJP, in the past, has been accused of trying to poach legislators from other parties with money and other promises—which was titled “Operation Kamala" by the political opposition.

The adverse result came at a bad time for the Congress, which is facing a severe crisis to remain in power. The Congress performance is a reminder of the humiliating defeat suffered by S.M. Krishna and earlier by Devaraj Urs despite them being known either for social engineering or for throwing up new political cultures.

The Congress defeat is the result of many things. Votes of dominant castes such as Vokkaligas and Lingayats were consolidated by two parties—Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and JD(S), respectively. The Lingayats have once again remained with BJP despite the Congress pledge to award minority status to them. North Karnataka completely identified with the BJP. This was a rearticulation of the social coalition of Lingayats and Brahmins. The Congress also tried to woo Lingayats by renaming the women’s university as Akkamahadevi university and issuing an order to put up portraits of 12th century Lingayat reformer Basavanna. This also backfired.

Further it tried to woo the Vokkaligas by writing off loans of peasants who constitute a majority of Vokkaligas. This too backfired. Further it tried to whip up Kannada identity by referring to Kannada pride and the Kannada flag. Nothing worked. It is strange that populist schemes such as Anna Bhagya, Ksheera Bhagya, Indira Canteen were not able to attract votes. Further, the experiment of social engineering by forming AHINDA did not yield much political benefit.

The BJP banked more on Prime Minister Narendra Modi than B.S. Yeddyurappa. Modi was able to sell the idea of modern India. On the contrary, Siddaramaiah projected ideas of addressing issues of poverty and backwardness by invoking the identities of subalterns. Modi used Kannada idioms, historical figures, historical symbols to connect with the common man. All these helped the BJP to increase its tally. This is reflected in the way the BJP swept the coastal belt and north Karnataka. It has even opened its account in Vokkaliga dominated areas.

The JD(S) has not added more seats but will play a vital role in the formation of government.

With these assembly results, national politics will not be the same. This election will become the harbinger of new social engineering, alternative political culture, and political and social narratives in the days to come.

Muzaffar Assadi is a former professor political science at Mysore University.