After having a narrow escape in Gujarat late last year, the BJP had managed to score a stunning victory early this year in Tripura. With its fabled power management skills it managed to form governments in Nagaland, Manipur and Meghalaya, thereby establishing a near-total grip on the North-East. Karnataka was billed as the beginning of its southern expedition. But Karnataka has not only stalled the party’s victory march south of the Vindhyas, it has also left the party thoroughly exposed while energising the entire opposition camp with a new sense of urgency, hope and confidence ahead of the next round of Assembly elections and the all important battle for the next Lok Sabha.
In its bid for power in Karnataka, the BJP had pulled out all stops. It projected the discredited but powerful Yeddyurappa as its CM face and gave any number of tickets to the Bellary-based mining mafia, the notorious Republic of the Reddys. Both these factions had parted ways with the BJP in 2013, but had returned to the party during the Modi campaign of 2014. It applied all its tested and trusted techniques of communal polarisation and caste engineering, and finally unleashed Modi’s high voltage campaign and massive advertisement blitzkrieg in the confident hope of capturing power in the triangular contest. Siddaramaiah’s AHINDA politics (Kannada acronym for a Dalit-Muslim-OBC coalition) and his last minute move to recommend minority status for the powerful Lingayat community had generated considerable backlash for the BJP to ride on.
This, combined with the party’s strong grip on urban and coastal Karnataka and the advantages of a triangular contest against the incumbent regime should have really made Karnataka another cakewalk for the BJP. But the party’s tally did not go beyond 104, six short of the party’s highest pre-Modi era tally of 2008 and its vote share remained 2% less than the Congress share of 38%. Compared to the high point of 2014, it meant a significant drop of some 7% vote and 30 seats.
Evidently, the Karnataka election was driven by two different ‘anti-incumbency’ factors – if Siddaramaiah and many of his ministers had to pay a price (despite the Congress increasing its vote share by 2 percent compared to 2013), there was also a distinct streak of anger against the non-performance and betrayal of the Modi government at the Centre and the Sangh-BJP politics of hate and violence. The JD(S) perhaps benefited as much from its alliance with the BSP and a few other parties as from this dual anti-incumbency to secure as many as 38 seats with a vote share of 18%.
If the election had just managed to deny the BJP a simple majority, it is the desperate post-poll bid of the BJP to manufacture majority by hook or by crook that has really given the party a far bigger blow. With the backing of a partisan Governor and a notorious pro-tem speaker the BJP had hoped to overcome its numerical shortfall. But for once the Supreme Court stood its ground. By drastically cutting short the unprecedented 15 days granted by the Governor to Yeddyurappa to prove his majority and then by ordering a live telecast of the floor test, the apex court effectively scuttled the BJP’s chances. The frantic phone calls offering money, ministry and impunity failed to produce the desired result and a frustrated Yeddyurappa resigned before the floor test. The BJP has triggered a very difficult and unlikely coalition between the Congress and the JD(S) in Karnataka just as the Yogi government has pushed the SP and BSP, arch rivals for last two decades, into an extraordinary alliance.
The Karnataka developments have accelerated the process of political realignment ahead of the next round of elections. The country now clearly knows what the BJP is up to and how desperately it will try and negate democracy to hold on to power at the Centre. For all those who could not still hear the footsteps of fascism, who were still hoping that the lynch mobs and thug squads were only a passing aberration, India is now clearly at the threshold of a second Emergency. Post Karnataka, the need for an all-out resistance and a determined and decisive opposition is being felt even more widely and acutely than perhaps the 1975 Emergency. There was a North-South divide in the popular perception about Indira’s Emergency, Karnataka has made it clear that there will be no such North-South divide in India’s battle against the Modi-Shah tyranny.
As the Modi government completes its fourth year in office, it has absolutely no achievement to show. As one of the BJP veterans has put it, Modi’s answer sheet remains completely blank. This is of course only a half truth. While the government has not fulfilled any of its promises, it has been working overtime to implement and facilitate the Sangh’s communal and divisive agenda. While corruption, agrarian crisis, rising petrol prices and all that had built up the mass anger against the MMS govt are back with a vengeance, the economic crisis is deepened further by the decline of the banking sector, the growing deterioration of public services from the railways to rations and the massive increase of unemployment. The BJP can only rely on aggravating the country’s fault lines, further dividing the people and maligning and attacking all its opponents.
In 2014, the BJP marketed Modi as the messiah for a crisis-ridden country. Today the BJP campaign harps on the TINA tune. But then TINA has always been the last resort of a desperate and discredited status quo, the laziest and dumbest of arguments to suppress every felt need for change, and the forces of change in history have always rejected TINA to throw up ever newer alternatives. The people of India who have been resisting the disastrous policies of successive governments understand it only too well that ousting the Modi government from power is the most decisive step that they can and must take today to strengthen and carry forward the battle for a better tomorrow.