India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is leading in the polls in Karnataka, but failed to cross the halfway mark required to form a government in the southern state, official results showed.
The state polls were seen as a popularity test for Prime Minister Narendra Modi ahead of general elections slated to be held in 2019 when he would seek a second term.
Modi’s BJP 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
The Congress party, the main opponent to Modi’s BJP at the national level, has thrown its support behind a regional party; together they are eyeing the formation of the next government in the southern state – home to India’s IT hub, Bengaluru.
Stiff competition among the opposition parties in the state vote – with Congress party candidates fighting the regional group Janata Dal (Secular) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) – helped the BJP emerge as the party with the most votes, even though it failed to win a clear majority.
Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah announced his resignation after his party’s setback in the state elections.
‘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 Sudhanshu Mittal told Al Jazeera.
If they are able to form a government in Karnataka, a state of 66 million people, the right-wing BJP will rule 22 of India’s 29 states. The Congress runs governments in three Indian states – Punjab, Puducherry and Mizoram.
In more than a dozen rallies he addressed in the state in previous weeks, Prime Minister Modi taunted Rahul Gandhi, president of the Congress party and fifth-generation scion of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, and his party for repeated poor showing at the hustings.
Since the last national election in 2014, 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 with 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.
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 legislator 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 minority group, forming over 14 percent of the 1.3 billion population.
The state unit of the party also regularly tweeted divisive 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
“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.