It is probably a developmentally inverse political strategy that cost the Congress the vital state, Karnataka. The Congress and its chief minister Siddharamiah hinged a bit too much on a one-sided and parochial communal pandering in an apparent bid to keep the Lingayats with them.
The party and its strategists were never on one page regarding the granting of minority religious status to the Lingayat community. Party state chief Parameswara and the chief minister had taken out separate campaigns, clearly indicating a rift. But, the apparent emergence of Siddharamiah as the redoubtable strong man, who could resist the nationwide 'onslaught' of the BJP, paved way for his will to prevail.
But, apparently, the granting of special status for Lingayats has not only backfired on the Congress but also worked to the advantage of the BJP. The prominent Lingayat belt of Mumbai-Karnataka saw the BJP winning 31 seats. Here, the Congress managed to secure half that number (15), and the JDS, 2. In the next prominent Lingayat belt of Hyderabad-Karnataka, the Congress could put up a slightly better show by winning 20 seats. The BJP still managed to secure 17 seats, as against the Congress campaign managers' hope of trouncing the saffron party there.
The Congress also failed to anticipate a possible Vokkaliga-Lingayat consolidation against it. It had to swallow the bitter pill in the Old-Mysore belt with the JD(S), led by former prime minster H.D Deve Gowda and his son HD Kumaraswamy. The former has been occasionally vocal of Vokkaliga stand points too.
Political observers were also repeatedly referring to the deep-rooted work the RSS had done in the recent past in 'key and sensitive' areas in urban and non-urban areas alike. Sources familiar with the cadre organisation's work said the strategy was two-pronged. In urban belts like Bengaluru, the BJP relied heavily on the RSS to take up door-to-door campaigns and grassroots-level campaigns. The feedback from the urban campaigns, especially from Bengaluru, indicated that the city was a picture of urban chaos with major roads remaining vehicle-clogged and amenities fast shrinking. The people wanted change and the national leadership was all set to cash in on the anti-incumbency. The BJP then deputed an array of leaders including prime minister Narendra Modi to put forth a non-communal and development-fronted campaign offering.
The prime minister and other leaders, during the campaign trail, had not even once touched upon the sensitive caste matrix or the BJP's hardcore temple-Ram Rajya agenda. The PM repeatedly spoke of farmers. He was often heard saying that 2,729 farmers had committed suicide in Karnataka between 2014-16, when 'Congress leaders were looking at their well-being alone.'
The electoral verdict may be indicative of the fact that it takes more than communal status-granting to win elections, especially in a new and changed development scenario. But, it is to be seen how the BJP will build on its win and manage the faction-ridden and graft-smudged state unit, especially with the party projecting a tainted Yeddyurappa as the chief minister candidate.