Things have reached a point in Karnataka after state election results where both the Congress and the BJP have quiet reasons for cheer -- or worry! It might seem strange because the moment officially belongs to Narendra Modi's party after a verdict which has given it a moral right to rule and a grand entry into the South (for a party long considered to be a north-centric force).
Yet, the minor difference in vote share between the Congress and the BJP keep both parties in the reckoning for the general elections in 2019 in the state -- and by implication, it means the next year's verdict is not a done deal for the BJP.
Another issue is anti-incumbency. Every election since 1989 in Karnataka has gone against the incumbent government, irrespective of the party. So the BJP has to introspect and ask itself a question: Was this electoral outcome one to unseat Siddaramaiah as chief minister or hoist the BJP into power? The hard reality is that anti-incumbency is a party-neutral phenomenon, no different from the annual monsoon rains.
Then comes the political games that emerge from ground-level clarity. The Janata Dal (S) led by former prime minister HD Deve Gowda has done well enough in the state to stay in the reckoning. I had expected its vote base to shrink as the farming community of Vokkaligas might have shifted allegiance to the BJP like their counterpart Jats in Haryana and UP in the north. But that has not happened. What is clear is that either the support base for JD (S) remains quite strong and/or Deve Gowda successfully wooed his traditional voters with a clear message that he can be a kingmaker if not king -- enough to win gains for those who voted him in the spoils of government.
This clarity, along with Congress winning a fairly handsome vote share, points to a pre-poll alliance possibility with JD (S) because like two jilted lovers, they can run into each other's arms. That is not exciting news for the BJP and its president Amit Shah.
What is quite clear is that desperate populist measures by Siddaramaiah to woo or split Lingayat votes by giving their Shaivaite community the status of a religion has not worked. So the BJP has reasons to heave a sigh of relief because its Hindutva plank is intact. Another possible reason for BJP's relief could be that Modi's status as a star campaigner is also a positive factor and he could be relied on to give a momentum that helps swing borderline votes close to polling dates.
Overall, therefore, the verdict has more to it than a clear lead for the BJP. The numbers may be interpreted as fragile enough for neither party to feel elated or ejected. At least as far as the general elections, due in 2019 are concerned, the old Bollywood line comes in handy: "Picture abhi baaki hai mere dost." (The movie is not yet over, my friend).
(Madhavan Narayanan is a senior journalist who has covered politics, diplomacy, business, technology and other subjects in a long career that has spanned organisations including Reuters, Business Standard and Hindustan Times. He is currently an independent columnist, editor and commentator. He is listed among the top 200 Indian influencers on Twitter. He tweets as @madversity)
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL.)