NEW DELHI: The Narendra Modi-Amit Shah duo have done it again, swept into the South and captured Karnataka as the single largest party. The charisma of the Prime Minister and the strategy of Shah---where the end justifies the means---has decimated the Congress despite the absence of a strong anti-incumbency factor, giving the BJP its 21st state since it came to power in 2014.

This has given rise to serious speculation about an early general election although BJP leaders seem dismissive about what is largely media speculation. There seems to be little reason for PM Modi to cut short his five year in office, for a second term, as there seems to be a sense of confidence within the party of its ability to turn around even troublesome states like Rajasthan. Instead the government will be moving into a pro-people mould in terms of schemes to win over the farmers as well as the Dalits, the two distressed and alienated sections. It will wait for these schemes to pan out and move into the general elections as scheduled early next year.

Shah has again demonstrated his ability to work across the clock, but again more so his shrewd management of caste and community equations along with local issues. The BJP allowed the Congress to make the noise about securing the Lingayat vote, but worked hard behind the mutts to convince the community that its future was protected only under PM Modi. It played the huge communal, divisive card to address the coastal belt and other seats where the Hindu-Muslim factor had festered over the years, with the occasional violence given only momentary attention by the media, had divided the populace into distinct camps. And it managed to convince farmers that agrarian distress was largely because of the Siddaramaiah government, and a BJP government in both the centre and the state would facilitate alleviation of their burning issues.

Clearly the Delhi WhatsApp debate did not impact on the reality of Karnataka. The Old Mysore belt was left by the BJP to te Janata Dal-S that was locked in contest with the Congress for the seats here. Shah opened sufficient channels of communication with JD-S leader Deve Gowda and his son H.D.Kumaraswamy to work out a coalition of required, and focused instead on the other regions of the state. The Vokkaliga vote was left almost entirely to the Gowda’s to handle, and instead worked on convincing the Lingayats that they were not exclusive for the Congress party. In fact while touring Karnataka the Vokkaligas even in Siddaramaiah’s own constituency Chamundeshwari were categorical that they were not going to vote for him, but for a sitting JD-S sitting candidate. One villager said, “he has done nothing for us, and now he wants our vote,” making it clear that the new Congress strategy to woo the Lingayats had not found favour with his community.

Shah criss crossed over 50,000km in the state in one month, indicative of the hard work he put in stitching alliances, strategy, and communities together. The BJP thus, had a different argument for each area, sometimes even for constituencies, with the urban areas being promised development, often mixed with communalism. Significantly, several urban voters spoke of casting the ballot for specifically the Prime Minister in the 20i9 elections and voting Congress this time but were clearly convinced not to wait by him. The 21 rallies, an increase of at least six over the earlier number planned, seemed to have touched a new low for the uber elite in Delhi but clearly carried a message of solidarity that was picked up and used by the voters in the different parts of Karnataka. This ranged from questions about the Congress and its leaders, to lack of development, to corruption despite housing Yeddyurappa and the Reddy brothers, to Siddaramaiah's non-governance, all laced with communal overtones that sharpened in the coastal belt through the campaign of leaders like Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.

It was again an unabashed divisive campaign, but was given teeth by the organisation and strategy on the ground with RSS cadres, senior ministers, BJP workers working around the clock in the districts. Trends were detected at the ground level, and countered as sources said, through a disinformation campaign where as the PM himself demonstrated, facts were happily turned to fiction as and when required. As a taxi driver in Bengaluru said, “I will vote for PM Modi.” Why? “Because he has done so much work and will do it here if his government comes”. What work has he done? “I don’t have the time to say it all, but you know better than I do.” How do you know he has done this work? “Why television tells us that every day, I only know from the media.”

The Congress party still does not seem to have understood the challenge. And is caught between the conservative, outdated approach of the old guard and the yet to be formulated thoughts of the new. The senior party leaders in the Congress are not of those who were literally purged from the party by Indira Gandhi for being too independent for comfort, and are a motley bunch with some but not sufficient understanding of regional politics. Those like Siddaramaiah who do, ran a non-performing government for three years, woke up in the fourth year and then tried to play the regional card that the BJP exposed as being opportunist, sought new alliances with a community like the Lingayats it had never really addressed before, and fielded Ministers half of whom lost the elections as per the early results today.

The Congress does not have a Modi and a Shah, capable of sustained hard work, around the clock. Forget about charisma and strategy, even the basic hard work is not visible except around election time. The party won Punjab largely because of the deep anger with the Akali Dal-BJP government and Amarinder Singh’s own image, that has declined dramatically since. In all other states the absence of an organisation on the ground---Uttar Pradesh and Bihar---has kept the Congress tally to negligible levels. In Gujarat the party did well because of the ground work done by the three young leaders Jignesh Mevani, Alpesh Thakor and in particular Hardik Patel. And the Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s willingness despite opposition from the old guard, to bring the three leaders on board.

Shah’s strategy always has a Plan B. This is the reason why he is able to form governments in states where the BJP has lost and the Congress won, starting with Goa. The Congress barely has a Plan A, and no Plan B. In Karnataka Shah had kept the JD-S happy in more ways than one. The Congress started by alienating the JD-S with Rahul Gandhi and other Congress leaders describing it as a B Team of the BJP. The Congress woke up to the possibility of a coalition late into the election campaign, with Shah already having got a head start. In case Plan B had been required to come into operation it is clear that the JD-S would have gone along with the BJP.

The Congress to even have a chance in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, the next states to go to the polls, will have to take a leaf out of the Modi-Shah book. And realise that a Congress mukt bharat is almost a complete reality.