What was happening; not happening for a week has finally happened and the state of Karnataka witnessed a shameful fall of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on the floor of the State Assembly. BJP’s Yeddyurappa would go in the history as a beneficiary of one of the shortest lived chief minister. Here, I do not wish to blame Yeddyurappa alone for the steep fall of the party. The blame and the responsibility should be taken by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and more importantly the party chief Amit Shah, whose over-ambitions led the party to this fall. The BJP had emerged the single largest force in the Assembly, though, it fell seven-seat short to achieve the magic figure to prove majority. Had Shah kept his inflated ego aside and approached the Janata Dal(S) immediately, things would have fallen in line. But the utter over confidence coupled with unscrupulous intentions and plans to use government machinery to win over others caught the party napping and Congress could forge with JD(S) overnight.
The most powerful duo of the ruling BJP has by now proved that even the best and the most powerful can commit a big blunder. This day will go down in history as the turning point in the present scenario. When it was thought that the Modi-Shah juggernaut was unstoppable, the opposite happened. Now one can imagine that they can be stopped, can be defeated. This confidence in the minds of non-BJP parties all over the nation has the potential to reverse the psychology of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
The Karnataka episode that turned out to be damp squib for the BJP has proved that Modi who gained moral stature in 2014 declaring that he was not like the “corrupt” Congress which would resort to anything to gain power has vanished. The entire Karnataka drama has been witnessed by the whole country and has exposed Modi thoroughly, and put him at par with the Congress. What is most unfortunate is that the country saw how the governor was “used” and how the effort was made to buy MLAs. People have heard audio clips in which even Yeddyurappa appeared to be luring MLAs into crossing over, though BJP has described these tapes as fake. What this means is that the debate about whether a coalition government of the Congress and JD(S) will survive has no meaning. Instead, the debate now shifts to how Modi can be defeated. He can be outplayed at his own game.
At this moment, I recall the V P Singh days for the opposition. The only difference is that then it was the Congress which faced the onslaught, now it is the BJP’s turn. In 1988, V P Singh’s election in Allahabad gave the sense to the scattered opposition that united they could defeat the Congress. In those days, Rajiv Gandhi’s government was supremely powerful. He had the mammoth strength of 414 MPs in the Lok Sabha. It was the impression of the invincibility of the Congress which forced two diametrically opposite political formations — the BJP led by L K Advani and the Left led by the West Bengal chief minister Jyoti Basu of the CPI(M) — to fight together and share the same platform to defeat the Congress. A few months ago, in Gorakhpur in UP, Mayawati, together with Akhilesh Yadav, came out with similar impact.
With the Karnataka experience, the opposition should realise that if they can come together, Modi will not be the PM even if he emerges as the leader of the single largest party. There is precedence to this optimism. In 1989, the Congress led by Rajiv Gandhi was the single largest party with 192 MPs but it could not stake claim as no other party was willing to support his party. In Karnataka, the Congress and JD(S) now know that if they are together in 2019, they will win the majority of the state’s Lok Sabha seats. In fact, the vote share of the Congress in Karnataka in this election is more than the BJP by 1.50 per cent, and if one combines JD(S) votes, it crosses 50% of the vote share. The message is simple — together, they will sweep. This will be catastrophic for the BJP and Modi. But the unity should sustain at least till May 2019.
This formula can be replicated in many other states. Karnataka will remind Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati that they must stick together to prevent Modi from a repeat of 2014 in Uttar Pradesh where he won 73 of a possible 80 seats and followed that last year by sweeping the state election. If non-BJP parties remain united in other states, they will surely come out with better results in 2018 and out-perform the BJP. In Maharashtra, Shiv Sena, being a major player, can upset BJP’s apple-cart if the NCP of Sharad Pawar stands by the Sena. In Assam also, this trend can be repeated.
Three State elections on the cards
Now, yet another round of trial of popularity, the State Assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan are on the card. In MP and Chhattisgarh, the BJP has been in power for 15 years. There is strong anti-incumbency against the government. In Rajasthan, Vasundhara Raje is leading an extremely unpopular government. Remember, these three states are meant to vote just ahead of the national election. It was rightly propagated earlier that Congress does not have the killer instinct which Modi and Shah have displayed in abundance. After the Ahmed Patel and Karnataka episodes, this criticism stands blunted. They appear to be prepared for every eventuality.
Despite the fact that the Congress president Rahul Gandhi has developed a self-destructing habit and style of putting his foot in his own mouth, the “new” Congress will pose a better challenge to the BJP. Modi and Shah better rethink their style of functioning sooner as tomorrow would be too late for Modi and for the BJP, though it does not make much difference to Shah, who was never on the national scene before he was ‘para-dropped’ by Modi to the coveted post of the president of the ruling party.
Bharatkumar Raut is a political analyst and former Member of Parliament (RS).