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Posted at: May 16, 2018, 12:39 AM; last updated: May 16, 2018, 12:39 AM (IST)

It’s BJP vs the rest

With its good show in Karnataka , the BJP has erased the label of being a "North Indian" party. But it also signals challenges facing it, en route to 2019, such as a gang-up of all opposition parties.

Vibha Sharma

In Karnataka on Tuesday, the BJP emerged as the single largest party despite the odds stacked against it. Except for leaders and its steadfast supporters, everyone, including the media, believed Karnataka was a done game in favour of incumbent Congress.

Karnataka reiterated what most states, except Punjab, established in the post-2014 Lok Sabha era when Narendra Modi and Amit Shah systematically "saffronised" West to East to North and, now, South, and subsequent developments came loaded with signals for the upcoming 2019 Lok Sabha polls.  

The BJP has erased the label of being a "North Indian" party. But it also signals challenges facing it, en route to 2019.

Politics, as they say, is the art of possibilities and is known to make strange bedfellows. Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee and her associates, in efforts to bring together an "anti- BJP, anti-Congress" coalition,  played a crucial role in persuading  the HD Deve Gowda-led JD(S) to go with the Congress.

The JD(S)'s performance has reignited hopes of the regional players — TMC, SP, BSP, BJD et al. This is something Shah would be closely watching while preparing the strategy for 2019.

Karnataka may have also raised hopes of the NDA allies in terms of a better leverage. Therefore, ahead of 2019, the BJP's biggest concern should be the possibility of all opposition parties, including the Congress, coming together. Narrow leads in vote shares in Karnataka may be a cause of worry.  That the BJP gains only when votes against it get divided is the crucial fact its detractors re-learnt from Karnataka.  

Otherwise, Karnataka has further strengthened Shah's credentials as the "master strategist", "Chanakya of modern day India". The southern state added extra power to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's persona as the BJP's star campaigner. He is someone who can single-handedly sway the mood of the public across the country, leaders say.

Running the last mile in Karnataka, he did manage to turn the tide in favour of his party, which was struggling with perceptions about urban-rural divide, unrest in key vote banks (Dalits and farmers) and caste factors. 

Karnataka was said to be the first real test of personalities between Modi and Congress President Rahul Gandhi and it proved that the PM's star power is intact. Skeptics can take a rest from running him and Shah down. The fact is the BJP emerged the top performer despite no strong anti-incumbency against the Congress' Siddaramaiah government. 

Karnataka also established the BJP’s ability to win elections on its own. Several NDA allies had been questioning its standalone capabilities. Allies had been keeping a close watch on Karnataka and speculations were that a couple of them could "jump the ship" in case of turbulence or at least make life difficult for Shah while negotiating for the 2019 polls. However, it emerged as the single largest party despite factors like "Lingayat and Vokkaligas", "corruption charges against Reddy brothers" and friend-turned-foe Chandrababu Naidu in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh pulling it down. 

Whatever the outcome of the political machinations, Shah is already preparing for the next three big elections in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan and the 2019 General Elections. 

Just two days after the Karnataka polls, on Monday, he sounded the poll bugle, with the message clear: "fir ek baar Modi sarkar".  Let us break the myth that BJP cannot return to power consecutively in the Centre, he told party leaders.

He wants to wipe clean the memories of BJP's "India shining" defeat in 2004. This will be the most suitable reply to those who believe Modi's promise of "achhe din" will work against the BJP the same way the "India Shining" campaign had against the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government in 2004, say leaders. 



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