In boost to Modi, India’s BJP leads in Karnataka

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India’s ruling BJP party has emerged as the largest political group in in the southern state of Karnataka, but failed to cross the halfway mark required to form a government, official results showed.

The state polls were seen as a test of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity ahead of general elections slated to be held in 2019 when he would seek a second term.

Modi’s BJP party had won 82 seats while the incumbent Congress party managed to win 50 seats, according to the latest results published on the election commission website. The final results for the 224-seat assembly will be announced later in the day.

“The BJP is able to win despite lacklustre economic growth because Modi still arouses the hope among the younger generation that he will be able to bring about an improvement in the situation. His remarkable oratory helps him to do this. In contrast, his opponents appear listless and devoid of imagination. They are also unable to project a vision of the future as Modi does,” political analyst Amulya Ganguli told Al Jazeera.

Modi was central to the choice of people in Karnataka. For 2019 the choice is apparent. In Modi, Indians find an ideal leader

Sundhanshu Mittal, the BJP spokesperson

The Congress, which is the main opponent to Modi’s BJP at the national level, has thrown its behind a regional party. They together are eyeing to form the next government as the BJP has fallen short of majority.

Chief Minister Siddaramaiah announced his resignation after his party’s setback in the state – home to India’s IT hub, Bengaluru.

Stiff competition among the opposition in the state with the Congress also fighting the regional group, Janata Dal (Secular) together with smaller ally the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) aided the BJP in emerging as the largest party.

‘Reaffirming the faith in Modi’

The BJP said the Karnataka state polls are “reaffirming the faith of people in the prime minister”.

“Modi was central to the choice of people in Karnataka. For 2019 the choice is apparent. In Modi, Indians find an ideal leader,” BJP spokesperson Sundhanshu Mittal told Al Jazeera.

If they are able to form a government in Karnataka, a state of 66 million people, the right-wing BJP would rule 22 of India’s 29 states. The Congress runs governments in three Indian states – Punjab, Puducherry and Mizoram.





The BJP said the Karnataka state polls are “reaffirming the faith of people in the prime minister” [Abhishek N Chinnappa/Reuters]

In more than a dozen rallies that he addressed in the state in previous weeks, Prime Minister Modi taunted Rahul Gandhi, the fifth-generation scion of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, who is the President of the Congress and his party, for repeated poor showing at the hustings.

Since the last national election in 2014, the Congress has suffered some of its worst results in local elections. Modi had earlier vowed to make the country “Congress-free”.

In glaring contrast, Modi’s BJP is doing well despite a bleak job scene and unimpressive economic growth.

India’s jobless rate was around 7.25 percent during the first fortnight of April, compared to 5 percent in January, the highest monthly rate in the past 15 months, data from the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy showed.

Modi swept to power in May 2014 with the biggest electoral mandate in three decades after promising to create 10 million jobs each year.

But analysts say economic concerns aren’t necessarily the sole focus of voters.

‘Hate wins’

Elections in India are also times of heightened tensions because political parties often pitch for votes on the basis of religious and caste identity.

A lawmaker from Modi’s party said in the run-up to the polls that the elections are not about roads or drinking water but about “Hindus and Muslims”. Muslims are the largest minorty group, who form over 14 percent of the 1.3 billion population.

The state unit of the party also regularly tweeteddivisive rhetoric while urging people to vote for the right-wing BJP.

Hate wins everywhere. Mobilisation on behalf of hate always has precedence over all else. The BJP expects us to ignore the doctrine of hatred as a tool of electoral contest

Ashis Nandy, social psychologist

“Hate wins everywhere. Mobilisation on behalf of hate always has precedence over all else. The BJP expects us to ignore the doctrine of hatred as a tool of electoral contest,” social psychologist Ashis Nandy told Al Jazeera.

“There was a divisive campaign this time by the BJP but this is not new, they have been doing so for decades now. Their way of mobilising votes is better. If you see the vote share of opposition parties, it’s not that bad. But Modi is a better politician,” he added.

The Indian prime minister remains “by far the most popular national figure in Indian politics” more than three years after coming to power, according to a survey released by the Pew Research Center in November.

Nearly nine out of 10 Indians say they have a favourable view of the Hindu nationalist leader.

But not everyone is convinced. Critics and activists say Modi’s government is not doing enough to stop Hindu nationalists from targeting minorities.

The Indian government failed to stop or credibly investigate vigilante attacks against minority religious communities during 2017, Human Rights Watch said in its World Report 2018.

“There are darker days ahead for India’s minorities. They will be living in a fool’s paradise if they don’t expect more hate crimes or communal riots,” warned Nandy.

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