Beyond BJP: Highly Important Lessons from Karnataka
Exhilarating but also very worrying
NEW DELHI: It is curtains for Act One of the play in Karnataka. Fortunately, it has ended on a positive and reassuring note.
Despite heavy odds, JD(S)-Congress combine has been able to salvage the day. They have been able to keep their flock together defeating inducement, attempt at bribery, threat, coercion and manipulation.
Over the last two days, an ugly scenario unfolded in Bengaluru. The constitutional authority of the governor was sullied one more time with the show of blatant partisanship. BJP was thoroughly exposed for its unabashed desire to grab power and hold on to it at any cost. The glimmer of hope came from the Supreme Court which helped salvage constitutional propriety and democratic institutions. And while it did provide a gripping drama forcing the country to remain glued to the TV screens, it also marked one of the most significant milestones in the contemporary politics of India.
To start with, the events in Karnataka have punctured the assiduously constructed narrative that BJP is invincible in the country. It is an important psychological turning point for the opposition which has been groping in the dark to find a strategy and gain confidence to throw a challenge to the BJP. Once the invincibility narrative is embedded in the public psyche, the dominant political party starts to get advantage of the TINA (There is no Alternative) factor. Congress had been a beneficiary of this process in the past and now BJP was close to utilising this. However, it has been stopped in its track by the process that started with Gorakhpur and Phulpur by-polls in UP where a united opposition handed a humiliating defeat to the latest poster boy of BJP Yogi Adityanath on his home turf. Now events in Karnataka have taken it to another level of tactical and practical possibility that could have a deep impact on the parliamentary elections in 2019.
Events over the last few days since the poll results were declared in Karnataka have also brought into the open the true underbelly of BJP’s political strategy. What was discussed as a possibility and talked in hushed tones about the ultimate outcome of elections in Goa, Manipur and Mizoram has now been brought out in the open. The BJP has been able to secure a government for itself in these states despite the fact that it did not enjoy a majority. Political analysts discussed the use of money, coercion and force in these states but this was usually overwhelmed under the praise for political management and astuteness of the Modi-Shah duo. The halo of ‘master stroke’, ‘political micro management’ was combined with the accusation about the lethargy of Congress and incapability of Rahul Gandhi. This created a perception that painted the BJP in a positive light as a sharp, clever political force. Karnataka elections brought out the ugliness of this political management technique in all its grotesqueness. The BJP was shown to be indulging in horse-trading, intimidation and chicanery to somehow secure power in the state. The Yeddy-Reddyfication of BJP was in full view of the people. People have started saying, tongue in check, that now BJP has evolved from the philosophy of ‘Ekatm Manavtavad’ (Integral Humanism) propounded by its ideologue Pandit Deen Dayal Upadhyay to Ekatm Kursiwad (The sole commitment to grab power at any cost)!
But the greater damage to the BJP in this process has been the loss of the moral sheen of Modi-Shah duo as claimed by them and the BJP. It is an undisputed and well-known fact that all such strategies, be it in the states or the centre, are worked out at the top by the BJP where Amit Shah and Narendra Modi hold unquestionable hold. So long as these political manoeuvres succeeded, the top leadership basked in its glory. In Karnataka however, the use of corrupt practices to lure MLAs from JD(S) and Congress became obvious. Congress used a sting operation by capturing these ‘offers’ on audio and video tapes to further erode the corruption free claim of the BJP. Indeed, Rahul Gandhi in his press statement on May 18 drove in this point when he said that PM Modi symbolised corruption as he directly authorised horse-trading in Karnataka. This dent in the image of the top leadership of the BJP could prove costly for it in the times to come. The BJP may now find it hard to convince people that its top duo Mod and Shah are the paragon of virtue and honesty.
The opposition parties have also been energised in the process. After the resignation of Yeddyurappa, leaders from across the political spectrum from Mayawati to Tejaswi Yadav and from Mamta Banerjee to Akhilesh Yadav came out in the open to support the JD(S)-Congress combine which is going to form the government soon. JD(S) spokesperson has also confirmed that a number of opposition Chief Ministers have been invited to the swearing in function next week and many of them are expected to turn up. Even if the possibility of a third front or united front of opposition parties remains a difficult proposition, the idea of going in for a broader understanding for a combined opposition, whose nitty gritty could be worked out based on local configuration of power and support base of each political party, has started taking root. This can seriously affect BJP’s poll prospects in 2019. In UP, if SP-BSP decide to contest Lok Sabha elections together, it is projected that BJP will be reduced to about 25-30 seats. In Karnataka too, there is a distinct possibility of JD(S)-Congress understanding holding up for the parliamentary elections next year. In such a case, if the pooling of JD(S)-Congress votes takes place, the seat projection for BJP falls sharply six from its current level of 17. Similar possibilities could arise in other states possibly leading to a big erosion in BJP’s tally.
The Karnataka elections have also showcased the Congress as a sharp, agile and aggressive political force. It now seems to be ready to match the aggressive and proactive political strategizing of the BJP. Rahul Gandhi has also emerged as the new focus of the young leadership within the Congress who are bringing the party out of a long period of pessimism and political lethargy. Despite its small number of seat in Parliament, Congress continues to have a presence across the country and enjoys a certain level of goodwill too. It only needs a leadership which has fire in its belly to fight. It may not be surprising if Congress follows up with credible performance in the upcoming assembly elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.
All this does not mean that drama in Karnataka is over. It is quite possible, indeed likely, that the game of defection, cross voting, resignation etc. may resume soon once the JD(S)-Congress coalition goes in to prove majority in the Assembly. It is also equally true that the JD(S)-Congress coalition will have to face huge challenges. The fact that the bigger partner will not have the Chief Minister from its party will be a constant source of irritation between the two parties. Personal egos, clash of interest, caste affiliations etc. will surely come into play once the euphoria of the initial victory wears off. If this coalition is to survive, it would require great deal of flexibility in both the parties and an understanding that this coalition has a larger implication that goes beyond Karnatka.
An extremely worrying possibility also needs attention of the political parties and citizens of this country. The viciousness with which the post-result situation was sought to be resolved by the BJP has ominous portents for the future of Indian democracy. Suppose, for example, that in 2019 a similar situation arises at the centre. BJP comes back as the largest party while other parties come together to form a post-poll alliance with majority. What is likely to happen? Will the President invite the largest grouping, even though it is a post poll alliance to form government? One can imagine the situation. It is high time that Supreme Court takes up this issue seriously and decides on the procedural and other aspects of exercising discretion by the President and the governor. It is hope that the SC will soon pronounce a detailed judgement that takes care of this issue.
However, all of this is only scratching at the surface. Having a government of JD(S) and Congress does not hide the fact that Indian democracy is suffering from some deep malaise. It does not really matter if tainted people with a criminal past are supporting Yeddyurappa or H.D.Kumaraswamy. It is naïve and self-deluding to assume that people like Anand Singh and Pratap Gouda Patil, to name just two, are with Congress because they have any inherent desire to fight communal politics of BJP or have any progressive vision for society. It should be a matter of concern for all that the political system of India is throwing up large number of people who have risen to the top based on money or due to their criminal background.
It is obvious that the space for an alternative politics has been shrinking in India. The initial euphoria when the Aam Aadmi Party came to power in Delhi that it will mark the beginning of an alternative mode of politics quickly dissipated. Communist Parties have slowly faded into irrelevance becoming moribund over time. Regional parties are prone to opportunism and manipulative politics. Mainstream political parties have shown neither the desire nor the willingness to reform the political system of India. Winning or losing elections in one state or two may be important but the fundamental problem confronting India remains- how to evolve a truly participatory political system that can bring in transformation of the country for a better future for its people, that allows an inclusive, progressive and transformative politics to flourish.