Caste and community considerations may not have been cleaned out in Karnataka, but Modi has certainly overturned, if not overridden them.
As I write this column, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has a convincing lead in the Karnataka hustings, is still a few seats short of securing a clear majority. Of the 222 constituencies which went to the polls on May 12, the BJP has won or is leading in 104, according to the Election Commission.
What makes matters somewhat complicated should the BJP not cross the half-way mark on its own is that in this three-cornered contest between the BJP, Congress, and Janata Dal (Secular), other players seem to be likely to win only two or three seats. Dozens of small parties, including the CPI and CPI(M), not to speak of the scores of Independent candidates, have been totally wiped out. The margin for negotiation — some would say horsetrading — is thus limited.
Biting the dust
Will the JD(S) play “kingmaker” or “heartbreaker”? The Congress has already accepted defeat: G Parameshwara, president of the Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee, said: “We accept the mandate of the people. We bow our heads to the verdict. We don’t have numbers to form government.”
Of course, that’s not the end of it. He continues: “The Congress has offered to support JD(S) to form government.” It is this feeler that opens the door to a non-BJP government in the state. It is another matter that the same gentleman boasted just a couple of days back, “Congress will cross 112- seat mark very easily.”
Indian elections have been known to make the proudest bite the dust. One of these is ousted chief minister Siddaramaiah, who lost in Chamundeshwari and barely scraped through in Badami. He has announced that he is to meet the state Governor at 4pm.
He will have to eat humble pie because he categorically ruled out a post-poll alliance with the JD(S). We must not forget how he was kicked out of the JD(S) by the redoubtable HD Deve Gowda because he posed a challenge to the latter’s son, Kumaraswamy. Interestingly, as we come closer to the crunch, the major actors have turned silent on social media. Siddaramaiah’s last tweet was on May 9 and Amit Shah has remained mum for the last 24 hours.
Given the BJP’s track record in forming governments in states where they did not have a clear majority, not to mention the fact that they rule at the Centre, there is almost no doubt that they will capture Karnataka too. The party has a formidable team of strategic thinkers and negotiators, in addition to charismatic national leaders to ensure that they cross the finishing line. The BJP forming the government would also be in keeping with Rajdharma or the order of things.
After all, there is no other way of interpreting this verdict but as a vote against the ruling Congress. The JD(S), we must not forget, is a distant third. It does not enjoy the mandate of the people. Therefore, the people of Karnataka would not like them to form the government. That is all the more reason why an alliance with the JD(S) for the BJP is nothing short of disastrous. Being out of power for so long, the former is likely to exact more than its pound of flesh in return for its support.
This will severely damage the reputation of the senior member of the alliance. In the case of the BJP, if the experience of the past when the JD(S) betrayed it is anything to go by, such alliances are counter-productive. In fact, the BJP being a junior partner even in Jammu and Kashmir has only diminished its stature.
What is absolutely clear from the verdict, however, is the immense power and popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He is a political phenomenon of the likes India has not seen in a very long time. I have said in the past and do not hesitate to repeat it: I consider him India’s most important leader since Mahatma Gandhi.
Modi is a game-changer. Though an outsider to Karnataka, he managed to sway the voters away from the Congress. Yeddyurappa played little more than a distant second-fiddle to him. Modi’s charisma is so great that he wins elections all over India almost on his own. This is also somewhat dangerous because it centralises power and authority in the figure of a single individual. In any healthy democratic polity second and third-tier leadership are absolutely essential.
The BJP’s win in Karnataka, many observers have asserted, is the prelude to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Whether this is true or not, what is indubitable is that the party seems all set to rule 21 of India’s 29 states. The Congress, as Modi had sarcastically quipped in one of his election rallies, has been reduced to “PPP” — Punjab, Puducherry and Parivaar.”
It is also salutary to remember that the Congress’s attempts to divide the Lingayat votes by declaring them as a non-Hindu minority religion have failed. Caste and community considerations may not have been cleaned out in Karnataka, but the magic of Modi has certainly overturned, if not overridden them.
(Courtesy of Mail Today)