By Arun Srivastava
Losing the Karnataka assembly election literally has been a visceral shock for Narendra Modi. He did not ever imagine that his politics of Hindutva would loose its appeal and fail to enamour the common Kannadigas.
Ironically while Modi was moving whirlwind with his pet slogan Hindutva, a section of the state BJP leaders were sceptical of the feasibility of it in arousing the passion of the Hindu voters. Leaders like B S Yediyurappa and Bommai had come to feel that Hindu voters were not too keen to respond to his Hindutva push. In places where he played the victim card and projected his Hindutva politics, the people did not appear to be quite enthusiastic to respond.
In contrast the people responded positively to the issues of lack of jobs, economic slowdown and other issues raised by Priyanka Gandhi or Rahul Gandhi. They tried to connect themselves with the Congress and its leaders. At some places the audience would wave signs to attract the attention of Rahul and Priyanka. Karnataka sent a clear message to Modi that Hindutva has its limits.
While the people of Karnataka disliked his Hindutva politics, they used their right to reject it at the first occasion available to them. The major factor which turned his Hindutva slogan irrelevant has been the counter narrative of Bharat Jodo Yatra launched by Rahul Gandhi. BJY was a momentous strategy of Rahul to neutralise the impact of Modi’s politics of hate, divisiveness and anchoring Hindutva. Congress getting absolute majority after 18 years is testimony to it. People have come to realise the danger of the politics of Hindutva.
Senior BJP leaders nevertheless defend use of Hindutva politics by asserting that though the BJP lost the election its share of votes had not reduced. It had got 35 per cent votes in 2018 and in 2023 too it remains the same. However the Congress has increased its vote share by around 6% compared to the 2018 assembly elections when the grand old party got 38.1% of votes in the state.
Nonetheless one thing is absolutely clear that Hindutva plank has miserably failed to add more Hindu votes. The BJP could maintain the status quo basically on the strength of the urban voters, who are mainly from Hindi speaking states and work with the corporate houses or IT industry. There is yet another reason; the shift of the JD(S) votes. While the BJP has gained around 8 per cent of the JD(S), the Congress has gained substantial 16 per cent. The voting trend makes its explicit that like in north and eastern Indian states, the urban middle class, feudal, rich and nouveau rich are the main support base of BJP.
However it is the failure of the politics of Hindutva that has turned the national leadership of BJP jittery. The nasty ridicule that his Hindutva politics met with in the assembly election has forced Modi, his close aids and the state unit of Karnataka BJP to consider modification in the character of the strategy. The national as well state leaders would meet soon to have a thorough analysis of the reasons for the failure of Hindutva strategy and decide whether the party continue to rely on Hindutva for future electoral success.
By and large the leaders share the common view that it politics of Hindutva should be dumped, but a major section of the national leaders hold the opinion that it would be a major alluring factor in the five states which will go to the polls by the end of the year. For historical reasons this political slogan of Hindutva may not help the states below the Vindhyachal region, but it is a very effective and potent slogan for the eastern and northern states. This is the major dilemma which disturbs the leadership.
Yet another factor which is preventing the leadership from reviewing this strategy is, it would provide an upper hand to the Congress and opposition parties. The manner in which Modi and Amit Shah avoided the economic, employment and development issues during their campaigning in Karnataka has sent a strong message to the people and has also convinced the rank and file that the Modi government has no concrete economic policy. However the leaders nurse the view that in case they drop Hindutva and raise the economic issues, they would be walking into the trap of Congress, which they abhor.
The people of Karnataka have succeeded in decoding the real meaning and implication of Narendra Modi’s slogan of Hindutva. It has never been an ideology. It has been a political tool in the hands of BJP to mobilise the Hindus for electoral gains. An analysis of the character of the word would make it explicit that it underscores the class character of the BJP rather than being a religious instrument. It is a conglomeration of the neoveau rich, upper caste landlords and landed gentry and the upper middle class. It is more of the nature of synonym for the word feudalism.
The BJP officially adopted Hindutva as its ideology in its 1989 Palampur resolution. The RSS has been toying with the word for quite some time. But before 1989 both the organisation never felt the urgency to make it a vibrant issue for expanding its base. While RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat described it as “India’s identity” the BJP claimed it represented “cultural nationalism” and its conception of “Indian nationhood”. But the manner in which this thesis was rejected by the voters of Karnataka has forced the BJP leaders to give a serious thought over reshaping and redesigning the slogan.
There is no denying that the mandate will have far reaching impact on the national electoral scene. Bestowing the victory to the grass root Congress workers by the party president Mallikarjun Kharge or by Rahul Gandhi is the strong indicator that party cadres have been invigorated and that they have come out of the stupor which gripped the party at lower level. This is not confined to Karnataka only, in fact the Congress workers are ready to take on the BJP across the country. A rejuvenated party will play a decisive role in uniting opposition. On their part the opposition leaders too would feel enthused, finally the Congress has ceased to be a liability for them.
Congress had defeated the BJP in Himachal, but the Karnataka victory send the strong message that BJP was not invincible. It would also erase the element of fear from the minds and hearts of the opposition parties, intellectuals, academics and social activists who had to suffer at the hands of the Modi government. The secular ethos and politics will no more face the dreaded spectre of the doomsday. On their part neither Kharge nor Rahul project the victory as a turning point in the Indian politics and preferred to stick to the ground. They specifically the initial priority of the Congress to implement the five promises which Rahul had made to the people. It is a first step to gain the trust of the people.
The nervousness that grips the BJP and Modi is also manifest in Modi keeping mum after the defeat. Though the party had not done spectacular in three states of northeast, Modi while addressing his party workers had predicted the doom for his rivals. After the results of the assembly elections to the states of Tripura, Nagaland and Meghalaya were announced, Modi was accorded a grand welcome at the party’s headquarters where he announced that the final frontier would be down south. But he proved to be failure.
The major gain of this election has been no doubt the emergence of Rahul Gandhi as a national leader who can take on Modi. So far one simple question was thrown into the public domain, who can match Modi. This question has answered by the Karnataka election. While the BJP has been forced to have a look at the future election strategy and whether the Hindutva plank is any worth, the Congress has set a new political line where the focus of the political system would have to be on issues of livelihood and welfare of the poor. With Rahul determined to give a left to the centre shift to the Congress politics and policy, the BJP would be hard pressed to evolve a new agenda and slogan to reach out to the people. (IPA Service)