How PM Modi is Responsible for BJP’s Defeat in Karnataka


The anti-Muslim policies of the BJP gained no traction in the deeply Hindu religious society of the southern Indian state. The war against Islam and Muslims that’s played in north India to win election after election was no music to the ears of the south Indian voters. In fact, many Hindu voters were pained at the BJP’s overt anti-Muslim politics

Syed Ali Mujtaba | Clarion India

As the poll campaign in Karnataka was reaching its crescendo, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a bizarre claim that people belonging to the Vokkaliga community had killed Tipu Sultan. Factious as it may sound, it triggered a fierce protest from the Vokkalingas. This schismatic tale, which does not exist in popular culture, turned heads and evoked a hearty laugh at the Gujarati banya who was trying to teach the Kannadigas a piece of their own history. Swiftly, the premier religious leader of the Vokkaliga community, Sri Adichunchanagiri Swamiji, rubbished Modi’s claim asserting there was only gas and no substance in that gossip.

Another, hara-kiri Modi did was to give a call to the voters to say “Jai Bajrangbali” when casting their ballots in the elections. This left the voters baffled as they did not know what does it mean in the voting sense. This war cry is mostly used in the lynching of Muslims in north India.

Right after coming to power in 2014, Modi said: “Na khaoon gaa, Na khanay doonga” (I won’t take bribes and won’t allow others to do it) to tackle corruption in the country. Corruption hitting the roof in Karnataka and the prime minister’s indifferent attitude toward it made people think twice about whether he was a leader or a deceiver. Remember Modi had come to power in 2014 through his famous anti-corruption campaign.  

The BJP government in Karnataka had raised the corruption bar to an abnormal level. An astonishing 41% of the BJP’s own supporters told a survey that corruption had increased phenomenally under the Saffron party rule.

The prime minister once claimed that the previous Congress state government was demanding 10% in bribes from contractors but now the BJP ministers were allegedly asking the contractors to pay a whopping 40% as bribe.

In November 2021, the Karnataka State Contractors Association, which included many BJP supporters, wrote to the prime minister complaining about the 40% kickbacks culture prevalent in the state. He did not reply. Four months later, the contractors sent a similar complaint to the chief minister and the state governor but nothing changed.

In April 2022, a contractor hanged himself after a minister demanded a 40% commission. The association’s complaints continued and another letter to Modi went unanswered. The prime minister’s complacent inaction on the corruption issue makes him swallow his own words “Na khaoon gaa, Na khanay doonga.”

In March 2023, as state election campaigning began, the association linked its 40% grievance to the government’s failure to release Rs 22,000 crores, as the contracts stipulated. They threatened to launch protests at every district headquarters and the chief minister’s residence.

The corruption scandal in Karnataka is far more public now and it had a telling impact on the voters in this election.

Why Prime Minister Modi did not respond to the allegation of corruption by the contractors? This is due to the fact that despite his supposed omnipotence and stated abhorrence of corruption, he lacks the will to tackle the problem. The buzz word is “Na khaoon Gaa, but khanay doonga.”

The power-drunk and megalomaniac prime minister has not only become complacent about the ground issues, he lives in a make-belief world where he thinks his charisma, his oratory, vastly superior campaign funds, and control of the media, can swing all the elections in his favor. That belief was overtly obvious in his Karnataka campaigning too.   

Caste Matrix: The unpopularity of the BJP government has to be seen in the drift of the caste matrix that once gathered around the BJP axis. The Lingayat votes (17 %) that always consolidated in BJP’s favour in the past, this time did not behave in the same manner. Lingayat is the dominant community in Karnataka and it remains under the control of its ‘mutts’ on which the BJP has considerable influence but this time the Lingayats broke free. In comparison to 2018 when Lingayats gave 38 seats to the BJP, this time around they gave only 15 seats to it. This is out of the 70 seats where their votes are decisive and the BJP fielded 69 candidates from this community. Lingayat support for the BJP dipped to 56%, with 29-30% going to Congress.

In southern districts where the Vokkaligas are dominant, the voters gave JD(S), their traditional party, only 19 seats which is a huge decline from its past four elections of 37, 40, 28, and 58. In the Vokkaligas stronghold, the battle was between Congress and the JD(S), and this time the Vokkaligas shifted towards the Congress. The BJP found it difficult to make gains in this region because its main backers, the Lingayats, are present there only in pockets.

Game-Changer: The game-changer was the consolidation of Muslim tribal, Dalit votes in favour of the Congress. About 63% of Dalit votes across the state went to the Congress. Congress also won support from the OBCs, Adivasis (a small group in Karnataka), and solid consolidated votes of the Muslims, much of which had previously gone to the JD(S). This consolidation of votes by the poor and oppressed people of Karnataka that suffered due to the anti-people policies of the BJP actually turned the tables in Congress’s favour.

As far as Muslims are concerned, in the past, the community voted for the JD(s) and the BJP. This time when the BJP raked up issues of hijab and halal it alienated the Muslim community to the core. Adding to the fuel was the cancelation of reservations for Muslims under 2B of the Other Backward Classes (OBC) category. This caused huge resentment among the Muslim community in Karnataka.

The anti-Muslim policies of the BJP gained no traction in the deeply Hindu religious society of the southern Indian state. The war against Islam and Muslims that’s played in north India to win election after election was no music to the ears of the south Indian voters. In fact, many Hindu voters were pained at the BJP’s overt anti-Muslim politics.

The Muslims in Karnataka taught a lesson or two to the north Indian voters. They did tactical voting in favour of the opposition candidate of the BJP and did not cut votes among themselves for electing a Muslim candidate. For Muslims, the goal was clear and that was to defeat the BJP. This proved the best way to kick the BJP out of power.

Against this backdrop, a rainbow coalition of Muslims, Dalits, and tribals was formed to drive out the BJP from Karnataka. This coalition firmly stood up to the consolidation of the Lingayat/BJP votes to seal the BJP’s fate in south India. Due to the consolidation of Muslim, Dalit and tribal votes, 12 BJP ministers were defeated.

Now with the 2024 general election due in no time, it remains to be seen how the electorates may behave on an all-India scale. The hunch is that if Karnataka is a sign of winter, spring is not far away.

Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at

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