The BJP’s electoral machinery muscle and the final round of PM Modi’s bombardment stratagem connected with an anti incumbency wave in the main targeting the aspirational youth in the state to deliver much better results for the right wing nationalist party in its southern beach head. By the end of day the BJP would think that it was being robbed off a popular mandate as the Congress construct of a grand heist in conjunction with secular forces led by HD Kumaraswamy upset what was a great script for the tireless Amit Shah. After the narrow win in Gujarat, much time, effort and energy was devoted by BJP president Amit Shah in Karnataka as it sought to topple the Congress from power. Once again, the strong undercurrent of Hindu nationalism, read majoritarianism, pitted against years of minority appeasement seems to have
worked for the BJP. PM Modi who himself is touted as a Hindu Hridya Samrat continues to be the BJP’s most reliable mascot in these election meetings. Both in Uttar Pradesh and now in Karnataka, the aggregation of the Hindu vote cutting across
caste lines has proved to be a reality as it rallies behind the Modi-Shah combine. An indefatigable campaign remained the cornerstone as Shah struck out into the dust bowls of rural Karnataka. The state with its mutts and religious places saw soft Hindutva being pushed by both the protagonists.
The consolidation of the Hindu vote theorem behind Modi in Karnataka is confirmed by the demographic construct from these elections. Looking at social groups (see table), 27.4 per cent of the Vokkaligas voted for BJP, 53.4 per cent of the Lingayats who were supposedly behind the Congress, 37 per cent of ST, 28.1 per cent of SC, 36.7 per cent of OBC, 54.1 per cent of upper caste Hindus, Moreover, 44.1 per cent upto graduation voted for Modi's BJP, and ditto 41.3 per cent upto post grad. When you take a dekko at income groups, higher income groups 54.2 per cent of the people earning between Rs 50,000 to Rs 1 lakh and 58.2 per cent of people earning in excess of Rs 1 lakh per month also voted for the BJP. Ergo, younger, more urban upper caste Hindus may have voted for BJP.
BJP President Amit Shah’s multi-dimensional and widespread campaigning in Karnataka bore fruit for the BJP despite the colour being given to the campaign that its CM candidate BS Yeddyurappa was tainted and corrupt.
Karnataka is the first state in south India, where the BJP had formed its own government, but in the 2013 assembly elections due to internal rifts, the party could get only 20 per cent votes, winning only 40 seats. But, in 2014, buoyed by the overwhelming support for Narendra Modi, the party made a massive comeback, securing 43.4 per cent votes, winning 17 of the 28 Lok Sabha seats. In the current context and from the standpoint of BJP’s expansion in southern states, the Assembly elections in Karnataka became extremely significant. Always seen as a Hindu heartland, north India Hindi speaking party, it was imperative that BJP gained a toehold in Karnataka.
Keeping in mind the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and the party’s ambition to stamp its footprint in south India, BJP president Amit Shah had his mind focused firmly on Karnataka from December 2017, despite the preoccupations of the Gujarat Assembly elections. In spite of the pressing engagements of national politics and the party’s organisational responsibilities, from December 2017 to May 10, 2018, Shah travelled across 29 of the 30 districts in the state, over 34 days travelling 57,135 miles across the length and breadth of the state. This was part of a very well thought-out and focused strategy through which Shah covered all regions, and reached out to all politically as well as socially and economically important groupings. He regularly met state and booth-level workers to keep the cadres motivated.
In the last four years, after Prime Minister Narendra Modi, it is BJP President Amit Shah who has held the largest number of community and people outreach programmes. State and regional leaders have also sought Shah’s participation the most, after Prime Minister Modi, in local outreach programmes. Keeping this practice alive, in Karnataka, Shah took part in 59 people outreach programmes. Apart from these, Shah’s road shows have also been very much in the news. Shah took out 25 road shows that culminated in Badami. The massive support, the huge turnout and encouraging sloganeering bears testimony to BJP’s rising popularity levels.
Karnataka is divided into six distinct political regions. Each of these regions are characterised by diverse social conditions and issues. Keeping the diversity in mind, Shah worked out different campaign strategies for each of the regions, giving primacy to local issues. In Coastal Karnataka, Shah reached out to the fishermen community, listening to their problems and offering solutions. At the same time, he also raised concerns about the physical assault launched on BJP workers, making it a political issue in the region.
In Hyderabad Karnataka, Shah reached out to farmers, holding several meetings with farmers’ representatives, making the sweeping rural distress in the state that has forced more than 3,500 farmers to commit suicide as a political issue.
In Central Karnataka, Shah held several outreach meetings with
betel nut and coconut farmers and traders. He carried out special initiatives to explain and disseminate information about the various schemes and policies that the Modi government has announced for the benefit of these farmers
In Old Mysore, the BJP President took extra care to understand the problems of women and sericulture (silk) farmers. He discussed a string of likely solutions that can be hammered out to deal with the problems.
In Mumbai Karnataka, Shah reached out to backward communities, seeking to understand their social and economic problems and sending out a strong message of inclusiveness from the BJP’s standpoint. He also visited several
mutts and memorials offering spreading party’s message of equality and inclusiveness.
In the Bengaluru area, Shah held several meetings/rallies/roadshows, reaching out to all classes of people, demonstrating the party’s serious intent to find a lasting solution to several chronic problems. The BJP President specially reached out to the business and trading community, addressing their concerns and discussing solutions about problems afflicting Bangalore’s urban and civic problems.
Communication with special groups
Reaching out to various communities, understanding their problems and discussing solutions has always been a special feature of Shah’s election campaign strategy. In line with this practice, in Karnataka also,
Shah held 38 such programmes. While he gave special and individual emphasis to politically significant groups such as SC/ST and OBC communities, at the same time, he also reached out to important community organisations. Besides, by holding special contact meetings with women, trade, business, youth and farmers’ representatives, he gave primacy to their problems in the BJP’s campaign strategy.
It is a testimony to Shah’s efforts that during the Karnataka Assembly elections, even the communities,
that were otherwise not seen to be part of the ‘traditional’ BJP support-base, have come out in support of the BJP. The Mysore area has been traditionally considered to be a tough area for the BJP. But in the wake of the emerging political and social equations, the results in this area have thrown up some surprising results in favour of BJP.
Communicating with workers
Since the days of the Gujarat Assembly elections, Shah has been reaching out to workers in Karnataka to keep them motivated. Encouraging ground-level party workers and bringing them into the campaign mainstream is one of Shah’s primary strengths. In Karnataka, Shah held 10 meetings with district level leaders, most of which went on till late into the night. To motivate booth level workers, Shah held 18 programmes across various parts of the state, which saw widespread participation among workers in Shakti Kendras, New Shakti Kendras and Booth Samiti workers. Galvanising the karyakartas has been Shah's obsessive feature for he knows over the last few elections the importance of booth management and convincing voters to come for rallies and vote on polling day. Keeping these thousands of nameless, faceless workers motivated and constantly keen to pitch in is one of his many strengths.
Social and religious outreach
Seeking blessings at religious places even during non-election time has been a routine practice for Shah. This is unlike leaders of other parties, who visit religious places
only during elections. The importance of religious places and mutts in Karnataka's elections need no emphasis. From December 2017 till now Shah visited 33 religious places and sought blessings and guidance of swamis and saints.
In the end , Congress populism was trumped by BJP and Amit Shah's micro management. It appears that the Congress peaked too early like in Gujarat and the Modi carpet bombing in the end decided which party emerged as the single largest. Incumbent Congress's Bhagya schemes for the lowest common denominator lost out to BJP's well rehearsed social messaging and communication skill sets. The BJP gained while the Congress lost seats, but it is the JDS which stayed more or less the same and perhaps that is why H D Kumaraswamy has once again emerged as the man in pole position.