POLITICAL PARTIES OFTEN DEPLOY the rhetoric of war to lend an aura of permanence to their short-term glories. In India, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has led the pack in verbally ornamenting its achievements with martial grandeur. When the party nearly won an outright majority in the 2008 Karnataka Assembly polls—they fell short by three seats—and formed a government with the help of independent legislators, they said the state had become their ‘Gateway to the South’. Their breaching the bastion of ‘secular’ parties, so to say, was made to sound like an invasion. The advancement of the saffron army, they trumpeted, could not be challenged anymore. But five years later, in the wake of last month’s assembly elections, their gateway to the Deccan has crumbled; the army that won it looks rag tag, and the rest of their rhetoric has acquired a hollow ring.
The BJP had a vote share of 33.86 percent in 2008. In this year’s elections, the party saw that drop to 19.95 percent, for a total of only 40 out of the 223 seats being contested. BJP candidates lost their deposits in 110 seats—incidentally, the same number they had won in 2008. The Congress increased its vote share from 34.76 percent in 2008 to 36.54 percent this year, and won a simple majority of 120 seats. The Janata Dal (Secular), which polled 18.95 percent in 2008, overtook the BJP this year to poll 20.10 percent, and former chief minister BS Yeddyurappa’s newly formed Karnataka Janata Paksha (KJP) polled 9.84 percent.
If the numbers themselves were not compelling enough evidence of the depth of the BJP defeat, the party lost badly even in areas that represented its most fervent base of support, including the state’s three coastal districts. Dakshina Kannada, Udupi and Uttara Kannada have long been referred to by commentators as the ‘Hindutva laboratories’, because they have been the focus of the Sangh Parivar’s thought experiments and social engineering. For their simmering communal tensions, these districts have often been compared with places like Godhra in Gujarat. It is here that right wing forces, over the past couple of decades, have created a spectacle of their effort to culturally and socially polarise the majority and the many minority communities.