If it were not for the herculean effort put in by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the last fortnight, the BJP may have won less than 50 seats in Karnataka So says the political wisdom at Lutyens Delhi after a major loss for the saffron camp in the only state where it was in power down south.
Outgoing chief minister Basavaraj Bommai has claimed responsibility for the BJP’s loss after being in the chair for less than two years, and there is now a realisation in the party that he was no match to the mass appeal and popularity of the man he was up against – former CM and Congress heavyweight Siddaramaiah.
The prime minister’s campaign could only convert the BJP’s tally from a “disastrous one” to a “respectable one”. The party takes solace in the fact that its vote share remains intact at 36 percent but a loss of 40 seats will worry it. This brings a new political phenomenon to light – that though Prime Minister Modi remains the most popular national leader by far, there is a limit to his ability to swing an election if the BJP’s state leadership is weak and ineffective.
The BJP ‘double engine’ was mostly PM’s ‘single engine’ in Karnataka. This is reflected in how the BJP could improve its tally only in one region of Karnataka – Bengaluru region – where Modi painstakingly did massive road shows for two days.
Modi had recently asked all state leaders of the party to take a cue from the effort put in by Telangana BJP chief Bandi Sanjay Kumar to energise the party in the opposition-ruled state through a series of yatras. He has earlier praised the effort of Gujarat BJP chief CR Patil in ensuring the party’s big win in the state. The underlying message here has been apparent – work on the ground in states among people and don’t always expect a miracle in the end from the PM.
The BJP should take lessons from Karnataka to invest more in its state leadership and realise that non-performing CMs need to go much before a state election, as people are increasingly looking at local issues and performance at the state level. To be fair, Bommai did have big shoes to fill in as he replaced Yediyurappa in 2021.
Unlike the case of Gujarat or Uttarakhand, where the party changed CMs and won elections later, the BJP did not have any leader of Yediyurappa’s stature or charisma in Karnataka. The yawning gap left by his exit meant that the party faced an uphill challenge to retain power in the state amid a strong attack by the Congress on the issue of corruption and price rise, which raised the anti-incumbency against the state government in general and the CM in particular.
Modi as usual put in all his effort during campaigning in the state but the CM or the state BJP president remained conspicuous by their absence from the entire political narrative. To win state elections, the BJP needs to invest in strong state leadership of the kind it has in Uttar Pradesh in Yogi Adityanath or in Assam in Himanta Biswa Sarma.
The people of the state may very well repose their trust in Narendra Modi when it comes to the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, but they were clearly in no mood to forgive the Bommai-led lacklustre government in Karnataka this time and have sent it home with just 66 seats against 135 for the Congress.
With inputs from News18