The BJP lost the Karnataka State Elections in May 2023, it was able to prove majority on only 65 of the total 224 seats in the state. The Congress won 135 seats in this state election, thereby, winning the right to form a single party government. Curiously, BJP retained its 36% vote share in the state but lost seats in this election. Thus, the last standing bastion of BJP in southern India fell into the eager hands of Congress.
The Congress’ win in Karnataka elections makes it directly in power in 4 out of 28 states in India. Congress and its allies directly or indirectly govern close to 30% of India; while BJP and its allies govern 45% of India at a state level.
Congress’ Lollipops and Sops to the People of Karnataka
The congress made several promises for freebies to win votes from the people of Karnataka. Firstly, they promised free 200 units of electricity to all households. This is similar to the Aam Aadmi Party’s promise of free electricity in Delhi and Punjab elections. This scheme of free electricity is an age-old ‘mantra’ to win voter support. However, the state already offered SC/ST households 75 units of free electricity. This lollypop electricity scheme is contrary to the rising electricity prices in the state. It opens the question to who will pay for the free electricity and why is it important for anyone to enjoy free electricity. The locals fail to understand that the free electricity scheme will divert the state budget from other important public projects.
Secondly, they promised free public transport facility for all women in KSRTC and other state transports. However, this freebie will be limited to non-deluxe buses. Strangely, this promise was made by the previous CM and the BJP government in February 2023.
They also incorporated laborers, garment workers, and students in this scheme which was to be implemented in April 2023. However, this scheme has become a promise that the Congress Party will implement.
Thirdly, under the Anna Bhagya Scheme all households will get 10kgs of rice. Fourthly, they promised ₹2000 to every woman head of a family under the Gruha Lakshmi scheme. Next they promised ₹1500 to all diploma holders every month till 2 years, if they are unemployed. Finally, they promised 500 liters of tax-free diesel for deep-sea fishing and ₹6000 as stipend for lean months as a part of their Matsya Bhagya scheme .
Karnataka under the Financial Microscope
In 202-23 the Karnataka state revenue was ₹1,31,883 crore. The outstanding debt of the state will be approximately ₹5.64 lakh crore in 2023-24. This debt will amount to 24.20% of the GSDP. Media reports claim the cost of Congress Freebies will be ₹62,000 crores. This will amount to nearly 20% of the total state budget. Thus, the cost of freebies will be as large as the fiscal deficit of the state government.
Karnataka recorded the highest growth rate in GST collection amongst big states. And the outgoing BJP government presented a revenue surplus budget. However, despite the projected growth of Karnataka’s economy in the coming years, these freebies of ₹62,000 crore will be a major challenge to its development.
Lessons for BJP in the Karnataka Assembly Polls
The freebies, lollypop, and ‘revdi’ strategy of the opposition is a major issue in India politics. This culture harms the national economy and increases dependence of states in the central government. However, the promises of freebies were made by both BJP and Congress. The major causes of loss of seats for BJP are:
Lack of Local Leadership:
CM Basavaraj Bommai failed to lead the party from the front. The impact of his leadership remained in the office and did not connect with the locals on ground. Moreover, the party faced public dissent from its members during a crucial election period. Local party members expressed their dissent in media bytes of public defamation of BJP. This left the local population disillusioned and dissatisfied with BJP and its leaders.
Unfortunately, this freebies trend points to the fact the Indians are suffocated under the rising inflation in the country. Indians are not affected by the global presence of India; usually, they feel a disconnect to their national identity. They do not care about the reasons that India is facing rising inflation. The common Indians solely focus on day-to-day survival. Despite India’s ascent as a global power, the common Indians want a lower cost of living in the nation to feel any sort of alignment with the government and its policies.
Tarnished Party Image:
Charges of corruption and incumbency have tainted BJP’s image in the eyes of the common voter. Media bytes of dissenting party members and irresponsible language of party members in public forums tarnished the party image. The good deeds of the party members, completion of public projects, and rise of Karnataka under the BJP was not popularized with the common population of Karnataka. The BJP focused on defaming Congress and depended heavily on PM Modi to connect with the common people.
Swing Vote of Muslim Voters :
Nearly 14% of the total population of Karnataka is Muslim. They hold a significant sway of 40 of the 224 seats in the state. Despite their attempts to reach out to the Muslim voters, the community votes as a whole. They are strictly guided by their religious and political leaders, who are known to seek political favors in return for Muslim votes.
Lack of Unity of Hindus:
Although 80% of Karnataka is Hindu; they do not stand united. The state is estimated to have the largest population of OBCs, approximately 54%. Moreover, the SC/ST population is estimated at 24%. The upper-caste Hindus are roughly 8% only. Thus, it is evident that caste politics is largely at play in the state. The Hindus vote for a person of their caste and not the best candidate. They do not give a unified vote. The lack of unity in Hindu voters ensures that the vote politics remains dynamic in the state of Karnataka
The Karnataka Assembly Polls have served as a forewarning in the Central Elections for BJP. The party needs to have a grassroots connection with the locals, increase party solidarity, and improve Hindu unity in the country. The BJP leaders and workers must stand by the party and its decisions. The future of BJP as the ruling party of India depends on an accurate post-election analysis of Karnataka Polls.