Urban Karnataka’s Surprising Election Twist

Tikender Singh Panwar

Urban Karnataka predominantly voted for BJP, surpassing Congress. The BJP polled 45.7% votes, whereas Congress got 43.0% in urban Karnataka.

The election result in Karnataka is hailed by every secular Indian nationwide. As soon as the elections began, social media was rife with selfies posed by the electors claiming they voted for a peaceful, compassionate, and loving Karnataka. 

Of course, they voted to oust the incumbent BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party). Rahul Gandhi said this is like opening up a showroom of love which began with the opening up a ‘shop of love’ in Himachal Pradesh, where Congress won in December 2022. 

All major secular opposition parties hailed this victory and laid great hopes for the 2024 parliament election. Stalin said the land mass of the Dravidian family stands clear of BJP. 

“The message from Karnataka is that the end of BJP’s communal corrupt rich oriented and anti-women and youth, socially divisive and individualistic politics has begun.” 

Akhilesh Yadav

Mamata Banerjee said this is the beginning of the end of the BJP before 2024, and Sharad Pawar said people had rejected the ‘with everything Modi is possible’ slogan. Likewise, the Left parties and others have reposed great confidence in the current defeat of the BJP and for a bright 2024 parliament election.

Not That Rosy: Urban India Continues to Vote for BJP

Whereas the BJP has been defeated, the fact remains that they polled nearly 36% of the total votes and continue to dominate the urban spectrum.

Urban Karnataka predominantly voted for BJP, surpassing Congress. The BJP polled 45.7% votes, whereas Congress got 43.0% in urban Karnataka. This happened despite some of the major cities exhibiting the worst kind of urbanisation development models in Karnataka.

Bengaluru being submerged, traffic jams, massive problems of solid waste, etc., all of these should have contributed to the defeat of the BJP. However, the most affected flood area elected a BJP MLA. Of the seven MLAs in Bengaluru, five are BJP.

Karnataka is now more than 50& urban. However, the vote percentage in urban areas is far less than in rural Karnataka. Whereas it was 73% in the state, only 52% of people came out to vote in Bangaluru city.

Urban Apathy and Urbanization

Urban apathy, as pointed out by the chief election commissioner just before announcing the election date for Karnataka, said that the election commission will hold ‘Electthons’, ensuring a larger participation of the urban electorate.

Urban apathy flows from the process of urbanization-the process of socio-economic development being pursued in urban India.

The transformation in urban India from an industrial-led developmental model into a real estate service-driven economy and greater economic formalization has thrown many people out of the process of combined planning futures.

The large working-class centres are now taken over by real estate development. Though the working-class numbers have increased substantially, their bargaining strength vis-à-vis their employers and the city administration has virtually crumbled.

The middle classes still assert through their various associations, and the social space of protests and city building has been taken over by the RSS-BJP combination that, leads to a downfall of secular values and upward ideological mobility of the politics of the right.

The Case of Karnataka and Bengaluru

The RSS started holding shakhas in public schools not since the government order from the BJP-led government but during the Siddaramaiah government. He defended the decision saying that Hindus would get annoyed if these shakhas were banned. Likewise, the BJP moved from schools to holding yoga camps and calling gurus to sermonise the urban electorate.

The Congress was nowhere in this ideological space. The middle classes fell victim to this ideology and did not see beyond their nose and gated societies. The Congress was also not seen during civil society protests against the CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act) or evictions of slums.

Why flood-hit regions continue to elect a BJP MLA is simple: the BJP was there with their paraphernalia, and Congress was of the space.

The social media campaign, which is so important in urban areas, was completely dominated by the BJP. The Congress was nowhere near. 

WhatsApp groups were formed and dominated with vicious propaganda. 

The organizational prowess of the BJP completely dominated the urban areas where issues of people and their livelihoods could not dominate the election pattern.

This continues across urban India, where the BJP’s appeal, particularly to the middle classes, is quite high.

What Needs to be Done?

The whole process of urbanization needs to be revisited in the states where non-BJP formations are ruling. A pro-people-centric approach will give more inroads engrossing into the urban population. 

The Congress which brought the 74th constitutional amendment must further strengthen it and ensure its smooth implementation. Likewise, ‘urban commissions’ must be formed to articulate the current process of urbanization and find out ways to come out of the techno-centric, capital–intensive city development models. These models create extreme forms of poverty and are entirely alien from peoples’ participation.

The city for city makers and space for people to mark their presence must be revisited. As the only space, social media should give way to more physical spaces where people start owning the city-making process.

Newer forms of urban livelihoods and habitats need to be discussed and created. Social housing for the urban poor needs to be included in the discourse. All that is happening is real estate development with housing for the middle classes and the proliferation of slums with no other space to reside. City development with more stuff like suturing and acupuncture is required rather than building newer cities, which is nothing but debt floating on land and roads.

Migration is such an important area in urban dynamics. With a proactive state policy, rental housing can create liveable spaces for people to live in urban areas.

Lastly, in urban areas, ideological churning also needs to be developed. Combating the Hindutva agenda, which is a combination of the ‘mob-elite and technology’ must be countered with a combination of ‘bottom-up peoples’ participatory governance on models of love, compassion, and brotherhood’ as enshrined in the constitution of India.

Otherwise, the joy emanating from the recent victory may be short-lived as the BJP, which has a greater skill in managing elections in the urban areas, will again return with a reinforced strength.

The article was first published in News Click as Why Urban Karnataka Showed an Inverse Trend on May 20, 2023.

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