Opinion: Only aggressive Hindutva will not work, BJP will have to change strategy after Karnataka defeat
The Karnataka victory has undoubtedly given regime change seekers a booster dose of enthusiasm. In the last four months, the BJP has lost power in two states. While the Congress has more than made up for its defeat at the hands of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Punjab. As a result, the stakes are high for both the BJP and the principal opposition when elections are held in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan later this year. If politics seemed hostile in the last week of the Karnataka election campaign, it could be doubly so by the time the general election is over.
The BJP’s failure to hold on to its southern bastion certainly requires a thorough analysis from within the party. While its detractors may interpret the decision as a vehement rejection of hardline Hindu nationalism. At the same time, its prospects can rest on a campaign of unrelenting secularism. The BJP is likely to draw a very different conclusion. The party’s apparent aim will be to re-inspire its traditional voters who have been disillusioned by their government’s poor performance. The success in retaining its 36% vote share is no small feat for the party. This was entirely due to keeping the campaign on a high emotional pitch.
The BJP’s campaigns have been characterized by a complete ‘ideological’ strangulation in the last days of the campaign. However, in states such as Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat, this was preceded by a focus on issues of social engineering and governance. This approach failed in Karnataka as the talk of so-called 40% corruption and lack of any strong local face did not garner public support. On the contrary, according to the voter’s mood, the Congress had many local and well-known faces leading the party. The party began to strike a chord with its extraordinary guarantees. If implemented, it will bankrupt the state exchequer.
Hindu solidarity, it seems, is not based solely on aggressive Hindutva. This should be complemented with an effective emphasis on governance and welfare. These were lacking in Karnataka, which is why the beating of Hindu drums in the slog overs rallied the minorities around the Congress. Also, did not achieve a sufficient level of Hindu unity. Ironically, this is where the Modi government is likely to make gains in 2024. Apart from the cult appeal of the Prime Minister, the BJP government also has a proud record of development works and welfare schemes.
In comparison, the opposition appears leaderless and purposeless. Congress strategists will have to work on one thing other than caste rigging, imaginary political unity. That is to break the prevailing general feeling that India is safer and better off under Modi’s leadership. For the Congress, overwhelmed by existential dilemmas, a Karnataka victory could reshape the internal power equations. The party fought and won the battle with a strong local leadership and a local programme. Apart from the fact that the Gandhi family made a fleeting appearance to establish their nominal sovereignty. It could also have been another regional party battling the BJP. Compare this with the ‘national’ BJP. The BJP expressed the impression that the ‘double engine’ prescription did not pay enough attention to local compulsions, especially the question of leadership.
The BJP has regional leaders like Yogi Adityanath, Himanta Biswa Sarma, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Vasundhara Raje, BS Yeddyurappa and Devendra Fadnavis. However, many of its other local faces lack the authority and mass appeal. In many states, infighting between people-oriented leaders and the organization creates additional complications. These go unnoticed in national elections where Modi secures a huge, incremental, presidential vote. But state elections are also being held on the lines of presidential elections. Especially when competing with regional parties. The BJP is often unable to capitalize fully on the strength of the Centre. The standard approach often leads to accusations of cultural insensitivity. The challenge before the BJP is to empower state leaders and develop a synergy between the local and the national. This is what the party needs to accept in this era of fiercely competitive politics.