Winds of change Oppn seeks to unite as BJP gives ground
Karnataka considered an economic powerhouse: it has a population of around 64 million people, including the tech hub of Bengaluru.
A fiercely contested election in the state of Karnataka ended with Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) losing power to their main rivals, the Congress, this weekend. Prime Minister Narendra Modi personally ran the gruelling campaign for the BJP in the key state. Karnataka considered an economic powerhouse: it has a population of around 64 million people, including the tech hub of Bengaluru. It was also the only state in India’s south governed by the BJP. Now, the Congress has managed to secure 136 out 224 seats in Karnataka’s state assembly. The BJP, by contrast, will hold just 66 seats. “The myth of BJP’s invincibility stands shattered,” Pawan Khera, an Congress spokesperson, told DW.
Political commentators believe the results from Karnataka will resonate across India as the country prepares for a general election next year. This could energize the largely divided opposition to form a united front against Modi. Karnataka is the second state the BJP has lost to the Congress in the last six months. In December, the party ousted the BJP in northern Himachal Pradesh. Although regional losses may not have a direct bearing onto the 2024 general elections, it is a cautionary tale for the party that has continuously banked on Modi as its key campaigner. “It has lost a crucial state in the south, robbing it of a pan-India status,” political commentator Neerja Chowdhury said.
“The BJP will have to really rethink its strategy going ahead given the magnitude of the Congress victory. The results show the poor are hurting badly,” he added. Since it came to power in 2014, the BJP has aggressively pursued its Hindu nationalist agenda, or “Hindutva” — a core political ideology that promotes the “values” of the Hindu religion as the cornerstone of Indian society and culture.
This strategy has worked well for the ruling party in the past. At the same time, BJP’s political opponents say the party’s ultra-nationalist rhetoric, based on Hindu nationalism and Hindutva, may be less appealing to the overall electorate than a more inclusive, secular appeal. “The BJP campaign in Karnataka was driven by a communal narrative which has lost badly in contrast to the inclusive message of (…) the Congress,” political scientist Zoya Hasan said. She says the victory in Karnataka is a “morale booster” for the Congress. “The verdict can potentially change the political landscape ahead of the 2024 general election as well as the dynamics of opposition alliance with Congress well positioned to lead it,” Hasan said. In the wake of the Karnataka election, leaders from at least 12 political parties are now expected to meet in the city of Patna, in the western state of Bihar, to decide on a united opposition front against the BJP for the next year’s vote.
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and his deputy Tejashwi Yadav are attempting to bring together leaders of regional parties to discuss tactics against the BJP on the state level.
“Though the Congress remains the age-old rival of most regional parties in states, it will have to work out a strategic arrangement if it aspires to cobble up an alliance to take on the BJP at the national level,” political commentator Rasheed Kidwai told DW. He also noted that the BJP’s anti-corruption slogans are losing their sheen, which opposition parties can capitalize on before the 2024 vote. “The pace of opposition unity will gain momentum when regional parties get a greater realization that a clear understanding among them is the only way to corner or defeat the Modi-led BJP campaign,” said Kidwai.