Money & star campaigners may not always be decisive

The people have spoken, and we have a new government. Congratulations to the voters who gave a clear majority to one party, thus preventing defections and toppling of the government like in 2018.

Voters may have changed their mind because of the ‘40% government’ tag, referring to high levels of corruption. Perhaps they were upset by the rise in prices of essential commodities. The most visible was cooking gas going from around Rs 400 to over Rs 1,100. Two major groups – the Dalit Sangharsha Samiti and Veerashaiva Lingayats – publicly declared their support for the Congress. Perhaps the Muslim vote was not split between the Congress and JD(S). Perhaps the Bharat Jodo Yatra played a role in both reaching out to voters and rejuvenating the party. With a massive 5% increase in vote share, the Congress won most of the constituencies where the margin of defeat in 2018 was low.

The campaign was marked by high-decibel confrontational speeches and slogans. There were references to a corrupt caste of CMs and warnings of riots if the other party won. One candidate said he would shoot those who insulted his religion, while another publicly threatened to kill his rival. Social media language was worse. The EC issued a warning on hate speeches based on an earlier Supreme Court directive to take suo motu action. The Congress was as aggressive as the BJP with full-page ads accusing the BJP of corruption in all leading papers. It said it would ban militant organisations. After victory, it toned down its aggression and said ‘hate has lost and love has won’ in Karnataka.

There are five other state assembly elections in 2023, followed by the Lok Sabha elections in 2024. The BJP, therefore, treated Karnataka as a crucial election, with the Prime Minister addressing a record 20 rallies. The home minister and the Uttar Pradesh chief minister also campaigned. The BJP had declared donations of Rs 615 crore in 2022, while the Congress got only Rs 95.5 crore. But as in West Bengal, it did not make a difference. Money and star campaigners are very important but may not always be decisive. Both parties spent money heavily and the expenditure limit was breached in most constituencies. A change of government may not mean much if the Congress focuses on recovering the money spent in elections.

The Congress had governments in only three other states and was fighting for its very existence. If the Congress delivers on its five-point scheme in Karnataka, it will help the party in the coming elections. In any case, Karnataka is likely to be a major source of funds for it. However, the BJP will make a determined effort to win all the remaining elections. It has the financial resources, star campaigners and a disciplined structure right up to the booth level. The Congress simply cannot match them. Time will tell how events unfold.

The article was originally published in The Times of India.