Whether or not the Karnataka outcome is a win for Narendra Modi, it certainly is a defeat for Rahul Gandhi. While the backroom manoeuvring and manipulation continues for government-formation, it is amply clear that the newly-anointed Congress Chief is yet to establish a connect with the ordinary voter. All through the campaign, the outgoing Chief Minister Siddaramaiah helmed the Congress effort, though Rahul was accorded primacy because he was the party chief.
However, let no one delude himself. The 47-year-old- inheritor is going nowhere and would continue as the party boss regardless of the rejection by the Karnataka voter. In politics, you can always win some and lose some. Well, for the wins, Rahul gets the credit from the craven courtiers of the Congress Party, while the blame for losses is left at the door of the regional leaders. They are already doing this after the rejection in Karnataka.
The Congress now rules in only one major State, and that too, thanks to Captain Amarinder Singh. Meanwhile, let us dismiss with utter contempt any suggestion that the result in Karnataka stems from the manipulation of the electronic voting machines. If indeed that was the case why would the BJP not give itself a clear majority, and, instead, stop short of it by a few seats. In fact, the shortage of a few seats has given the Congress a tiny chance to try and deny the BJP, which has won by far the maximum number of seats, power by offering its support to the JD(S) with great alacrity.
Clearly, the lessons of the Goa election have been learnt. There, post-poll a fast-moving BJP had successfully converted defeat into victory. But in Karnataka, at the time of writing it seemed that the Congress plus JD(S) could touch the half-way mark. Yet, it is highly unlikely that the man in the Bengaluru Raj Bhawan will be accommodating, especially when there are well-established precedents to invite the single largest party first for government-formation.
The game of ‘Aya Ram, Gaya Ram’, not beyond the capabilities of any of the contending parties, can help BJP fill the gap between its actual numbers and those required to cross the half-way mark. In short, the chances of the BJP forming a government are brighter, never mind the constitutional principles and proprieties. Indian politics has so far gone in abandoning all concerns for ethics and fair play that winning power has become an end in itself.
The Modi-Shah duo has come to trump the Congress at its own game. Indeed, the Karnataka outcome would enthuse the BJP rank and file ahead of the 2019 election. In the intervening period, it is not clear if the BJP duo can succeed against all odds in preventing what as of now appears to be a certain loss in Rajasthan, though there should be no surprise if Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh are retained by the party on merit — and the Congress’s demerits.
If Karnataka proves anything it is that the voter is not taken in by short-term trickery, foolery. Siddaramaiah tried everything from Kannada sub-nationalism, painting over Hindi road signs, a separate flag for the State, minority status for the Lingayats, old caste consolidation of Muslims, Dalits and OBC Hindus, etc, etc. All this to no avail. For thirty years, the State had not re-elected the same party in a row twice.
It kept that tradition in 2018. Of course, neither Siddaramaiah nor the BJP’s chief ministerial candidate B S Yeddyurappa was known for probity, but it would seem that corruption is a non-issue when other factors such as the lack of water to irrigate parched fields, decaying civic infrastructures, clashing caste loyalties, etc, determine voting behaviour. Of course, Modi’s charisma played a huge role in the BJP performance.
There is no-one as of now to challenge him, a key factor that could prove crucial in 2019. But, the Karnataka result in no way sanctions the excesses of the Sangh parivar fringe, be it the vandalism in the name of cow protection or violence in the name of love-jihad or outlandish pronouncements by the half-educated BJP leaders. The party should respect the rule of law and, above all, the Constitution.
Election victories do not negate constitutionalism. No, never. The BJP should try and abandon the baggage of an obscurantist party and embrace modernism and progressivism in all spheres, including cultural, religious, social, economic and technological. An election victory imposes a greater responsibility on the party to deliver good governance, and not to indulge in cultural and religious primitivism. Modi should build on the Karnataka result to cast the BJP in a new, and better, light.