Three key takeaways from the Karnataka results
The Bharatiya Janata Party which had emerged as the single largest party in the 2018 elections has finished 70short of the Congress’s tally this time
The Congress has pulled off a convincing victory in the Karnataka assembly elections winning 135 assembly constituencies (ACs) out of the total 224. The Congress’s vote share is 43%, the highest it has had in the state since the 1989 assembly elections. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which had emerged as the single largest party in the 2018 elections has finished 70short of the Congress’s tally this time. The Janata Dal (Secular) or JD (S) has recorded its worst ever performance in terms of vote share since its electoral debut in 1999. Is there a bigger message from the Karnataka elections apart from these summary statistics?
Here are three things that are worth highlighting.
The return of Ahinda
With 135 ACs and 43%vote share, this is the best ever election result for the Congress in the state since 1989. How did the Congress achieve this? One plausible explanation is the resurrection of the Ahinda (a Kannada acronym for Alpasankhyataru or minorities, Hindulidavaru or backward classes, and Dalitaru or Dalits). This was a strategy created and perfected by Congress leader Devraj Urs in the 1970s as a way to counter the influence of Lingayats and Vokkaligas, the two dominant communities in the state.
Is there a statistical basis to the theory that the Congress’s 2023 victory is based on a resurrection of the Ahinda coalition? The easy answer is to look at social-group wise support from India Today-AXIS exit poll numbers which accurately predicted the overall vote share of the Congress. The Congress has a massive vote share among Ahinda communities.
A region-wise analysis of vote shares further underlines this fact. Central Karnataka and southern Karnataka are considered to be the biggest strongholds of the Lingayats and Vokkaligas. In both these regions, the Congress has made gains without anything to suggest that the Lingayats or the Vokkaligas have deserted the BJP or the JD(S) in a big way. This is a clear indication that the non-Lingayat non-Vokkaliga voter has shifted to the Congress from these two parties.
See Chart 1: AXIS caste-wise support numbers
Limits of Hindutva
From the politics around banning hijabs in schools to evoking Bajrang Bali in the campaign, the BJP made a big pitch for Hindutva to contain the Congress in these elections. The results show that the strategy might have backfired instead of working. Three factors can be listed in support of this argument. One, the Congress has gained in terms of vote share in every subregion of the state. Two, the BJP has lost vote share even in coastal Karnataka which has always seen a high level of communal polarisation. Three, and this is the most telling stat for the BJP in these elections, is that while an aggressive Hindutva pitch can help the BJP gain some ground in regions where it has historically been weak, it is not enough to retain the voters who make the difference between victory and defeat. This is best seen by AC-wise change in vote share of the BJP between 2018 and 2023. While the BJP has gained vote share in ACs where it had a less than 40% vote share, its vote share has decreased in ACs where it had a vote share higher than 40% in 2018.
See Chart 2: Change in BJP seat share
Economic pain was key in driving anti-incumbency
In addition to its Ahinda plank, the Congress also a host of economic promises aimed at providing relief to the poor. Its five guarantees included cash transfers for women and unemployed, free food grains and subsidised electricity and LPG cylinders. One way to check whether these promises have worked is to compare the Congress’s seat share with the per capita GSDP of every sub-region. The Congress’s subregion-wise seat share is the highest in the poorest regions of the state. This evidence of economic pain among the poor translating into political anger will worry the BJP the most, for it could easily play out at the national level.
See Chart 3: Congress subregion wise relative seat share with share of top 20%
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