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Defeat for Modi’s party in South India upsets its rivals

Defeat for Modi’s party in South India upsets its rivals

Election results in Karnataka showed that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling party on Saturday lost the only state government in relatively prosperous south India, in a boost to the faltering opposition ahead of next year’s general elections.

The Indian National Congress, which has ruled India for much of its time since independence before being sidelined by the rise of Mr. Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party, was winning a majority of seats in Karnataka state’s local assembly elections.

Home to more than 65 million people and India’s cash-rich tech hub, Karnataka is the only southern state where Mr. Modi’s Hindu nationalist party has managed to lead a government, and its ideological push has found less acceptance in this part of the country than in Mr. Modi. Modi’s stronghold in northern India.

With a majority of votes counted, the Congress party was expected to win at least 135 of the 224 seats in the assembly, which would put them in a position to form government with ease.

In the latter stages of the state campaign, which saw a strong voter turnout of around 73 per cent, Mr Modi personally pushed himself into the race. He held about 20 rallies there, including several in which supporters showered him with flower petals as he drove by in an convertible.

Making the election around the popular Mr. Modi was a last-ditch effort, after the party’s usual efforts to polarize voters along religious lines — such as banning Muslim girls from wearing headscarves as part of the school uniform — did not seem to distract voters from allegations of domestic corruption among BJP members.

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“We have not been able to make a mark despite a lot of efforts by everyone, directly from our chief minister,” state chief minister Basavaraj Bommai said, conceding defeat on Saturday.

While a victory in Karnataka could be a blow in the arm for the national opposition, which has been trying to rebound after blows by Mr. Modi’s party in the 2019 and 2014 national elections, analysts have warned that Congress will still face a formidable opponent in Mr. Modi. Modi when he seeks a third term early next year.

An incumbent rarely wins in Karnataka state, where control has largely alternated between Congress and the BJP in recent years. In local elections, class rivalries and urgent governance issues, such as corruption, loom large. Local preferences do not necessarily translate into votes for the National Assembly in the Indian parliamentary system, which determines who is the prime minister.

Mr Modi’s popularity remains strong, with many voters in Karnataka state – who voted against his local leaders over price hikes, corruption and political polarization – still expressing fondness for him personally.

At the national level, Congress has struggled to keep up with Mr Modi’s charisma.

Rahul Gandhi, the most famous leader in Congress who is often described as a challenger, built some momentum by hiking across India, covering 2,200 miles over four months.

But just as he seemed to be casting Mr. Modi’s label on him as a dynasty, presenting himself as a credible leader around whom a coalition of skeptical regional allies could unite to challenge Mr. Modi, the BJP has bogged him down. Legal challenge.

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An old and dubious defamation case has been revived in recent months, and a judge in Mr. Modi’s home state of Gujarat has handed the maximum sentence to Mr. Gandhi, disqualifying him from his parliamentary seat. Gandhi’s party called the case a political conspiracy akin to match-fixing, and was fighting to keep him out of jail.

Aarti Jiraat, a political commentator in New Delhi, said that while voting patterns in local elections do not immediately translate into support in national elections, the Congress party will learn lessons from its victory in Karnataka – to empower local leaders, and focus the campaign on bread-and-butter issues rather than Make it a popularity contest against the formidable Mr. Modi.

“This is a great morale booster for Congress – the first win in a major state after a string of defeats,” she said.