Opinion: More is at stake for BJP than Congress in Karnataka elections
Much of the focus in the run-up to Karnataka assembly elections has been on the Congress. The reasons are obvious. It is the only big state which Congress has in its kitty. Without Karnataka, the morale of its workers would dip in states like Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh where elections are due later this year. But it does not mean that BJP remains immune from the election result. The impact of defeat in Karnataka would be far more challenging for the BJP than Congress. The latter is anyways on the margin.
BJP's defeat in Karnataka would cut short the party's dream to expand its footprint in South India. 2008 was BJP's renaissance in the south it won Karnataka handsomely. They lost the state again in 2013. After an impressive victory in 2014 elections, BJP embarked on an aggressive strategy to expand in southern and eastern India. It tasted success in the Northeast but failed in West Bengal.
Similar aggressive campaign of BJP in Kerala also failed. Despite the swell, fight remained between the Left and Congress. If BJP fails in Karnataka, it will be reduced as non-player in 130 seats. On top of it, BJP has lost a stable partner in the form of Telugu Desam Party (TDP). Both Chandrababu Naidu and K Chandrashekhar Rao are openly canvassing for a Third Front.
The BJP's efforts in Tamil Nadu too have not yielded results. The AIADMK has split and two film stars have jumped in the fray. Political players have multiplied and situation remains fluid in the state. Ruling AIADMK was not able to wrest Jayalalithaa's RK Nagar seat. Dinakaran won RK Nagar sending the message that the cadre is split. The state also saw a mild overture from Prime Minister Narendra Modi when he paid a visit to Karunanidhi. The meet was hailed as ice breaker but today, the DMK is also openly mooting the idea of a Third Front. So post Atal Bihari Vajpaye, BJP remains without alliance in Tamil Nadu. TDP has broken ties with the Centre and BJP has not been able to create a footprint in Telangana.
A loss in the state will have less of an impact in three northern state going to polls and more on the general elections in 2019. The BJP cannot expect to repeat its performance in most of the northern and western states. The Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party have already come together in Uttar Pradesh. Loss of alliance and footprint in south and east would mean that regional parties will have a greater say in the central government. It will reinforce the impression that despite success in many parts of India, BJP's idea of India remains alien to South India. This is not to undermine the fact that BJP's performance in Northeast was spectacular but it only adds 25 Lok Sabha seats to the kitty.
The loss would also empower the idea of regional players coming together to combat BJP at the Centre. It can also galvanise other regional parties who as of now are neutral or with the BJP. A loss would also empower the idea of strong regional chieftains against an imposing Centre which will again have resonance in Indian politics. The Congress lost the 1977 and 1989 Lok Sabha elections because regional parties came together. It happened again in 1996 but BJP emerged as the largest party in Lok Sabha.
Karnataka's loss can inspire politics on similar lines. For Congress a loss would mean another blow to Rahul Gandhi's credibility as a leader and further shrinking of whatever remains of the Congress. It would mean that it would become even more marginal when it comes to opposition politics. But for the BJP stakes are higher. A loss in Karnataka will impact its overall Lok Sabha strategy. It is for this reason more is at stake for BJP in Karnataka than Congress party.
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL)