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Sunday, May 28, 2023

Main lesson from Karnataka elections for BJP: groom credible state-wide leaders

This, from the HT, is the most interesting chart of the election- though the headline is very wrong (in no way does this chart show “limits of Hindutva”). Simply v 2018- BJP got stronger where it was weak (<40% vote share) and weaker where it was strong. What explains that?

Well, Karnataka has multiple regions. There are two effects at play- 1. A cyclical effect- every 5 years in the assembly (unlike LS) Karnataka tends to swing away from the incumbent 2. A structural effect – BJP‘s regional expansion – gaining vote share in Old Mysore region.

In FPTP vote share gains don’t translate to seat share gains off a low base (as in below a threshold) – so seat gains for BJP were very small in OMR, but seat losses in Kittur Karnataka very high with the cyclical shift away.

Hence while everyone will fit their favourite narrative onto the election (anti Hindutva vote by liberals or similarly blackpillers will say BJP was punished for not being Hindutva enough) – the data doesn’t show it. BJP overall vote share is same as 2018 – that doesn’t suggest any state wide massive anti incumbency. Yes- there is anti incumbency in rest of Karnataka (minus OMR and Bangalore) – but even that is within the normal cyclical swing of KR elections. The main thing is INC gains from JD-S and the cyclical swing.

On the overall structural factors the rough formula for Indian elections now is Identity pride + Social Welfarism + Credible leadership. At the national level the relevant identity is Nationalism plus Hindutva, the social welfare schemes are those of the Union and the credible leader is Modi. Now voters use similar factors for the Assembly but the relevant variables are different – identity may be regional, social Welfarism is the schemes of state govts, the leadership is that of the state.

This doesn’t mean nationalism, Hindutva or even Modi are liabilities or even irrelevant. But they can be complements, not substitutes to the main formula. This is known to the BJP and the Opposition – both,

The issue is not one of strategy or knowing/ not knowing this insight. It is one of execution and having the capabilities/ assets to be able to do this. Where the BJP has credible state leaders – like in UP- they do well. Where they can stand for regional identity as they do for Gujarati pride or Assamese indigenous identity, they do well again. Similarly on social Welfarism. The key controllable variables for the BJP to do better in assembly elections in the short run is signature social welfare schemes and running a clean government.

And in the medium term it is to groom leaders who are seen as high potential to be state wide leaders. And that will naturally blunt the regional identity tool against anyway – if the leader is a credible and popular face across the state.

All in all – there are no new lessons for the rest of India assembly elections (this formula was known) and I don’t think this election has any major implications for Lok Sabha. In fact I expect KR to vote solidly for BJP in the Lok Sabha.

(This article has been compiled from the tweet thread originally tweeted by Akshay Alladi (@akshayalladi) on May 14, 2023.)

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