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5 ways in which Narendra Modi swung Karnataka elections for BJP

The Karnataka election results show that the Narendra Modi factor has once again worked for the BJP. Here’s how

assembly elections Updated: May 15, 2018 15:15 IST
Prashant Jha
Prashant Jha
New Delhi, Hindustan Times
Karnataka,Narendra Modi,BJP
Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses an election campaign rally ahead of the Karnataka state assembly elections, in Bengaluru.(REUTERS FILE)

Irrespective of which side they were on in Karnataka, most people agreed on one thing in the final lap of campaigning -- Narendra Modi could turn the election.

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders said that they had one trump card, one issue in this election -- Modi. Congress leaders knew that Modi’s rallies were making a difference, but wondered whether it would be enough to help the BJP overcome local challenges. As one Congress leader put it, their party was sure of 110 seats before Modi really hit the campaign trail.

The Karnataka results show that BJP’s trump card worked, helping the party emerge as the single largest force. The Congress’s worries were real. Prime Minister Modi made this his election yet again, and won it for the BJP.

Also read: Track the Karnataka election results on our live blog and interactive maps that provide real-time data and analysis

How did he do it?

1.Increase in rallies: The PM had first scheduled 15 rallies in Karnataka. But as the campaign entered its final leg, he stepped it up to 21 rallies. Many interpreted this to be a sign of weakness. But others suggested that this was a result of the party recognising that it was ahead, that the PM’s rallies were making a difference, and all it needed was one final push. Past electoral experiences show that Modi thrives in election campaigns and is willing to invest in them, be it launching a campaign blitzkreig in Gujarat with over 30 rallies or spending three days in Varanasi in the final lap of the Uttar Pradesh elections. The increase in rallies helped and could well have been the turning point. What added to it was that in each of these rallies, Modi had speeches tailored to the region, paying deference to local cultural icons, and speaking of the party’s commitment to addressing local needs.

2.Turning the corruption narrative: The BJP had been defensive on the question of corruption. BS Yeddyurappa, who has confronted corruption charges, was their CM face and the Reddy brothers and their associates had been awarded tickets and political space. This allowed the Congress, despite being the incumbent, the opportunity to occupy the anti-corruption narrative against the BJP. Modi changed it in two ways. For one, his clean image helped in neutralising any local disadvantage. Modi made it a point to say he was fighting against black money and the corrupt; that those who had looted the poor would have to return money; and that moves such as demonetisation were geared towards this end and that is why the Congress opposed it. Two, he went on the offensive against Congress itself, and at a rally in Hubli, told his audience, and Karnataka, of the fact that Sonia and Rahul Gandhi were out on bail (in the National Herald case). Coupled with the consistent attacks on Siddarammiah and Congress’s culture of ‘deals’ and alleging it sold tickets, Modi ensured that on corruption, the BJP was not in the dock alone.

3.Welfare: Siddaramaiah’s big selling point in this election were the welfare schemes he had initiated. This, the Congress had calculated, would consolidate the poor behind the party. Modi came into the fray and projected, vigorously, his own record on welfare and pro-poor initiatives. Welfare has emerged as a consistent theme now with all BJP leaders. But when Modi, projecting his humble roots, speaks on the subject, it appears to have a different kind of resonance with the electorate. He spoke about gas connections; he spoke about electrifying rural India; he spoke about toilet construction; he spoke about providing health benefits; he spoke about housing for the poor; he spoke about opening bank accounts; and he claimed it was these schemes which were percolating down to the poor. From Siddaramaiah monopolising the welfare narrative and attacking the BJP for being insensitive to the poor, Modi ensured that the BJP could also lay claim to being sensitive and addressing the core needs of the subaltern.

4. Dalit push: The BJP’s biggest worry in this election was Dalit anger and unrest. The election was happening soon after the Supreme Court order on the prevention of atrocities act, which triggered a Bharat bandh. Karnataka has 16% Dalit population. A consolidation of the community in favour of the Congress would have propelled it to victory. Dalits were indeed a key leg of Siddaramaiah’s AHINDA (a Kannada acronym) social coalition of backwards and minorities. Modi recognised this.

And a consistent theme of his speeches was the BJP’s focus on Dalits. He spoke about the party’s commitment to BR Ambedkar and recognising sites associated with the Dalit icon; he spoke about the Congress’s supposed antipathy to Ambedkar; he spoke about how welfare schemes had helped SCs most; he spoke about how his government had actually strengthened the SC/ST Act; he spoke about how President Ram Nath Kovind was a Dalit leader and the BJP enabled his election, while Sonia Gandhi had not even paid him a courtesy visit. On the last day of the campaign, in a sign of the importance they placed on the communities, Modi spoke to the BJP’s SC, ST, backward and slum morcha through his app.

5. The Hindu card: The Congress banked on key Hindu caste groups along with Muslims backing the party. The BJP needed a degree of Hindu consolidation to overcome this challenge. This consolidation could happen only if the Congress was portrayed as anti Hindu, appeasing the minorities, at the cost of public order. Modi added his voice to this narrative. By repeatedly alleging how, under the Congress government, BJP workers were killed with no action against perpetrators; by pointing out that the Congress was out to divide Hindus and ‘make brother fight brother’, in a reference to the move to grant Lingayats separate a religious status, Modi was aggressively seeking to consolidate the BJP constituency. It appears to have worked.

With Karnataka, Modi has shown, yet again, that he is one of the most formidable election winners India has ever seen. He has shown his appeal transcends regional boundaries. And he has shown that four years into his term, his personal popularity can swing even the most difficult election around.

First Published: May 15, 2018 11:14 IST