In a shocking turn of events, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) suffered a crushing defeat in Karnataka, the only state in South India where the party has a significant presence. Despite running a polarised campaign based on its traditional Hindutva plank, featuring a Bollywood film and a Hindu god, and promising a “double engine” government with 75 new faces, the party was unable to secure victory.
According to leaders of the state unit, the party’s campaign failed to connect with voters due to a lack of strong local faces or local issues as part of the narrative. Instead, the campaign focused on rallies by national leaders, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi ( Namo) holding over 20 rallies and Home Minister Amit Shah holding as many as 30 rallies.
During his rallies, PM Modi had urged voters to watch the Bollywood film, The Kerala Story, and highlighted the Congress’s plan to ban Bajrang Dal, which he portrayed as an insult to Bajrang Bali, the Hindu god Hanuman. However, these efforts were not enough to convince voters amid mounting anti-incumbency against the party’s state leadership.
The BJP’s defeat in Karnataka is a significant setback for the party, which had hoped to build on its previous success in the state. It also highlights the party’s need to focus on local issues and candidates, rather than relying solely on national leaders to drive its campaign. With important state elections coming up, including in Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat, the BJP will need to re-evaluate its campaign strategy if it hopes to retain power in these crucial states.
Further analysis of the BJP’s campaign strategy reveals that messaging focused on national issues failed to resonate with voters in Karnataka. According to a parliamentarian from the party who spoke to local media, the Congress party had successfully employed the Amul vs Nandini plank, but the BJP failed to follow suit.
The BJP’s attempt to raise issues like the proposed ban on Bajrang Dal also failed to help the party, with the exception of a few seats in the Udupi-Mangalore region.
The party’s efforts to replicate its success in states like Gujarat by fielding 75 new faces and changing the chief minister mid-term also fell short. Over 60 of the new faces the party fielded lost their elections, highlighting the BJP’s failure to select strong candidates.
Furthermore, the party’s failure to highlight the sitting Chief Minister during its campaign showed a lack of confidence in its own leadership.
The BJP’s crushing defeat in Karnataka serves as a wake-up call for the party, which will need to re-evaluate its campaign strategy if it hopes to succeed in upcoming state elections. The party will need to focus on local issues and candidates, and avoid relying solely on national leaders to drive its campaign.