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Karnataka Election Not End of the Road for BJP, Modi Biographer Says

© AP Photo / STRIndian Prime Minister Narendra Modi throws flowers towards the crowd during a road show to campaign for his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ahead of the elections in Bengaluru, India, Sunday, May 7, 2023.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi throws flowers towards the crowd during a road show to campaign for his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ahead of the elections in Bengaluru, India, Sunday, May 7, 2023. - Sputnik India, 1920, 21.05.2023
A 7% vote advantage for the Congress Party in the recent state elections led to a difference of 70 seats over the BJP. Despite the BJP's 36% vote remaining unchanged from 2018, it came from only two particular regions, not the entire state this time.
Months after losing its grip on Himachal Pradesh in north India, the BJP has lost its only southern state - Karnataka. In both the states, the ruling party was humbled by its arch-rival Congress, which is led by Gandhi siblings Rahul and Priyanka.
Even though Prime Minister Narendra Modi's individual magnetism continues to grow exponentially in national and global platforms, his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) couldn't optimally utilize it to win more than the party's largely solid vote share.
However, the BJP's loss in a big state like Karnataka appears to have rejuvenated the sapped spirits of Congress and many opposition parties.
There's a growing optimism that the BJP is not longer invincible. Some pundits are even viewing it as the beginning of the end of Modi-Amit Shah's back-to-back victory marches at the federal level as the country approaches the 2024 parliamentary polls. But is this the reality or a far-fetched hypothesis?
In an exclusive interview, Sputnik explored the significance of BJP's losses for the party and the Congress-led opposition with India's leading political journalist and author Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, who penned 'Narendra Modi: The Man, The Times'.
Sputnik: Is it time for the BJP to revisit its strategies ahead of the 2024 parliamentary polls?
Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay: The BJP would be the last party going to be sitting complacently and not worrying anything about what's been happening.
They should definitely worry about Karnataka and Himachal Pradesh. They have major gaps in their narrative which is being shown, the biggest of course being that the entire southern India has rejected the BJP's brand of politics. I am using a very hard word like 'rejection' because there's a huge 7% difference in the vote share between the BJP and Congress (in Karnataka).
Even now, there are 36% of people who are backing the BJP in Karnataka. But I think in the first-past-the-post system, one really need not have great fun to say 'I have 36% of seats'. But eventually, you have only 66 seats.
So it's really a reason for them to worry because it shows there are great loopholes in the personal popularity of Mr. Modi. The loopholes mean in terms of the geographical spaces, and also that the idea of Hindutva, which is one of their four major campaign pillars, is not uniformly working all the time.
Plus, in this election, even their second biggest pillar -- social welfarism -- has not been really completely endorsed by the voter.
Because people, after nine years of talking about 'we have given this or that -- gas cylinder, electricity etc, have developed a sense of entitlement to it. And it is not that the NDA government alone which has actually given, announced or run welfare programs. So, there is nothing unique about what they have done.
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The Manmohan Singh government (2004 to 2014) did many things. The MNREGA (the 2005 national rural employment guarantee scheme) was started by him. But Mr. Modi trashed it when he became prime minister. And he (Modi) is the one who has ended up using MNREGA the most after COVID-19.
Sputnik: Is BJP's polarization through aggressive Hinduism backfiring or are the Congress and AAP succeeding to in cashing in on being in the opposition?
Mukhopadhyay: There are two different aspects. One is that: 'Is Hindutva running uniformly?' So, there are some areas where it does. There are some areas where it does not.
In Karnataka, it did not run in four sub-regions. But in two regions, it did. It was quite successful in central Karnataka and coastal Karnataka. So, there will be areas where Hindutva will be a big draw and where it will not be a big draw.
They will find it fairly successful in major parts of northern India. But in northern India, they may not find it as popular as in Uttar Pradesh or in Rajasthan state.
In Rajasthan, Hindutva has never been much of an issue even during the heydays of the Ram Mandir Movement (Hindu groups' struggle in the late '90s to construct it where 16th century Babri mosque existed).
And the second part is anti-incumbency where you have to have the governments that work.
They have had an actually dysfunctional government in Karnataka for five years.
Under the two state chiefs, four years after seizing control of the government in Karnataka, the BJP government actually provided very poor governance and plus were so corrupt.
The two biggest things which went against the party were a suicide by the contractor (Santosh Patil over an alleged BJP minister's harassment in 2022), and then the Pay CM campaign.
During the vote in Karnataka and Himachal, they (Congress) were able to cash in on the anti-incumbency sentiment.
Sputnik: Is nationalism or Hinduism the safest bet for the BJP? Why?
Mukhopadhyay: Let's not confuse Hinduism with Hindutva. We have to make a very fundamental distinction. The BJP does not use Hinduism in politics. It uses Hindutva. So Hindutva is actually a culturally nationalist articulation. So, it is very close to the kind of nationalism which the BJP promotes.
Both are [safe bets]. Because of the way the BJP uses it, there is not much of a gap between Hindutva and nationalism of the BJP's variety. They are two sides of the same coin.
Sputnik: Considering BJP's vote share remains largely the same but the opposition is also steadily putting its house in order, what mistakes should the BJP avoid to further expand its vote bank around the country?
The BJP is into very little about it because its ideology is a very narrow parochial one. Their idea of Bharat is exclusively limited to north and western India and it doesn't extend to eastern and southern India.
And gradually the people of this country are beginning to understand that their Bharat doesn't include us. So, they don't want to be part of the BJP.
Sputnik: Are you suggesting it's the end of the road for the BJP?
Mukhopadhyay: No. No. It's not the end of the road because the BJP is a very powerful party. It has great areas of strength, part of that is that it is a very geographically-lopsided state. You have a greater number of seats from northern and western India.
So, there are lots of permutations and combinations. But I do not think that the BJP is unstoppable.
The opposition parties have to maximize having one single candidate against the BJP candidates in as many constituencies as possible to be able to actually reduce the number of seats of the BJP from what it was in 2019 (national polls).
This need not be by a formal alliance or a formal form of coalition of something like that. But there have been instances in the past where they have been informal seat adjustments. And something like that can also be done now.
Sputnik: Nitish Kumar, the Janata Dal (United) leader, is trying to cobble up a coalition, can the opposition join its forces properly this time?
Mukhopadhyay: He (Kumar), I think, is doing the same thing that I am saying by which we can have one single candidate from as many seats as we can.
So, it's going to be a time-consuming process. And, at the moment, it looks like they are on the right track.
Because you have to accept the fact that 14 very disparate parties came together and signed a case against the misuse of investigative and probe agencies in the Supreme Court.
The petition was not accepted, but the point is that 14 completely diverse and disparate parties came together and put the signature on one sheet of paper. That was a very big thing.
Sputnik: Has Rahul Gandhi actually matured gradually to be considered by the Indian opposition able to lead it in the 2024 national polls?
Mukhopadhyay: He definitely has matured. Everybody matures every day. You will mature from yesterday to today. So, everyone matures.
Mr. Modi is a much more mature political prime minister than what he was on May 13, 2014.
On the last day of voting in 2014, from there Mr. Modi has matured so much. So everybody is maturing every day.
Everybody can be considered. There are over 540 people who are elected to parliament and anyone can be elected. Anyone can be considered. Why should we think only of one or two or three or four people?
This personality-specific politics is what the BJP tries to promote in the country. This is something that has to be rejected. Because while the BJP promotes a personality, they are more promoting an ideology, a very divisive ideology.