The ultimate loser in all this political hara kiri will sadly be Karnataka, with a return of the same noxious money games and instability that has become all too familiar in the state now.
Amidst the melee of opinion polls and exit polls, if one was waiting for 15 May for clarity regarding which way Karnataka would swing, things only got murkier on the fateful day. The undecided Karnataka voter threw up a hung assembly, despite a record high turnout of 72 per cent, and the elections being the epicentre of national consciousness and discourse possibly for the first time ever. The initial hours of counting indicated a comfortable majority for Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and yet another humiliating loss for the Congress. Top guns of the central government were already on television with their bellicose and triumphalist comments.
Reality sunk in thereafter, with the BJP’s seats shrinking to 104 and a usually comatose Congress springing into action with its diminished tally of 78 and proposing an unconditional alliance with the 38 MLAs of the Janata Dal (Secular) or JD(S) and offering them the post of chief minister as well. By evening, a constitutional firestorm was set in, with all parties queuing up at the Raj Bhawan for Governor Vajubhai Vala’s attention.
As usual, while the Congress can claim “moral victory” for a 1.8 per cent vote share lead over the BJP, which did not contribute to a seat-conversion, the conclusive message about the party’s defeat cannot be missed. The BJP managed to eat into significant vote-banks of the Congress among the Dalits, Other Backward Classes (OBC) and even the Muslims, even as they consolidated their strong Lingayat share. Of 38 Dalit stronghold seats, the Congress won 17, the BJP 12 and JD(S) eight. This among a social base that hitherto did not support the BJP and it was the latter’s assiduous wooing of the Left-handed Dalits led by the Madigas in their struggle for the implementation of the reservation rejig recommended in the Justice Sadashiva Commission report that yielded results.
The Muslims might have consolidated en masse against the JD(S) as the constant campaign theme of the Congress was that a vote for the JD(S) meant two for the BJP. In 17 seats, where the Muslim vote was decisive, the Congress won 10, but surprisingly the BJP got six and the JD(S) only one despite its ‘secular’ credentials and Asaduddin Owaisi’s All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) supporting them. The OBCs who have not been on the BJP side also sided with the saffron party in 18 out of 24 seats, giving the Congress only five. The Vokkaligas, who have been seething with rage at Siddaramaiah’s insults to H D Deve Gowda and also the discriminatory treatment meted out to their community in the five years of his rule in management of cooperative societies, Agricultural Produce Market Committees (APMCs), taluk and zila panchayats, KAS and IPS postings and also promotion lists trounced the Congress by giving it only 10 seats among 45 stronghold bastions.
The JD(S) naturally got the lion’s share of 21 seats, but the BJP too managed 14 seats despite it being seen as an adversary of the Vokkaliga community. Clearly, Siddaramaiah and the Congress were a bigger enemy for this caste group. The trick to break the Lingayat community, and thereby the BJP’s core voter base, boomeranged on Siddaramaiah badly. Out of 67 seats with Lingayat dominance, the BJP won 40 and the Congress, 20.
It is this total rejection of Siddaramaiah by the Lingayats and Vokkaligas and a fracture in his favoured AHINDA group that cost him a humiliating defeat in Chamundeshwari and secured a wafer thin victory in Badami. Half of his cabinet lost the polls with a margin of over 8,000 votes. Senior ministers like B Ramanatha Rai, H Anjaneya, Shivaraj Thangadagi, Umashree, Kagodu Thimmappa, Basavaraj Rayareddy and others bit the dust.
The BJP made significant inroads into both rural and urban areas winning 59 out of 134 and 23 out of 44 seats respectively. It performed remarkably well in central, coastal, Mumbai and Hyderabad Karnataka, improved its tally in Old Mysuru, where it has always been a non-player. A status quo in Bengaluru was the Congress’ only face-saver. If this is not anti-incumbency, disaffection, and a rejection of the Congress what else, pray is?
At the sunset of his political career, in what was declared as his last election, Siddaramaiah was a pall of gloom by late afternoon. This was not the belligerent Pulikesi, who had just recently got his mojo on Twitter, calling his opponents names, filing defamation cases against the Prime Minister and positioning himself as a strong southern satrap. The photograph circulating on social media of him sitting aloof and crestfallen, even as Ghulam Nabi Azad held H D Kumaraswamy’s hands, whispering into his ears, spoke more eloquently than any editorial ever could.
After alienating the Vokkaligas and running a high decibel campaign insulting his former mentor Deve Gowda several times, he was forced to eat humble pie and offer everything on a platter to the party that came a measly third in the contest. Adding insult to injury, it was left to him to make this announcement to the press. As much as the results further weaken Rahul Gandhi’s paltry credibility in the national scene as a nucleus of opposition unity, it destroyed Siddaramaiah’s political equity for good.
Was Siddaramaiah, the scriptwriter for Rahul Gandhi’s infamous and juvenile barbs about the JD(S) being the B-team of the Sangh parivar, and if so, what logic makes them suddenly holy and secular now? Expectedly, the absentee-leader that he is, Gandhi was nowhere to be seen or heard in all this drama. Mamata Banerjee was quick to admonish the Congress for not having a pre-poll alliance with the JD(S). Her anger seems justified as analysts point out that in over 34 seats, in areas such as Chikkamagalur, Turuvekere, Karwar and Madikeri, a Congress-JD(S) alliance would have easily taken seats away from the BJP. But when will the Congress ever hold its high command to account for its strategic bloopers and understand that it is now a national party only in name, and must learn to play second fiddle to regional satraps if it needs to survive.
Karnataka now moves into a sad, gloomy phase where all the psephology and sociological crunching is merely academic and matters to nothing. It is crude arithmetic and moneybags that would decide the future course from here on. The familiar vulgar resort politics has already come back to haunt, even as horses get bought and sold in the markets. Freshly elected MLAs have already been herded in buses to fancy resorts, where they will be fed, entertained and allowed to cool off after the dust and grime of the polls until the crucial confidence proving day comes up in the assembly.
The JD(S) emerges as the winner here, despite a severe loss of face. In press conference after another, Deve Gowda and Kumaraswamy swore that they would not ally either with the BJP or the Congress in the event of a hung assembly and would prefer fresh polls, even if those parties came to their doorstep to woo them. Suddenly, the done and dusted glue of secularism has made them transform into the Kejriwals of Karnataka, where grandiose oaths before elections mean nothing in the face of realpolitik post-polls.
The Congress had all along attempted to destroy the JD(S) and only recently seven MLAs had crossed over to that party. Yet, it has gulped these insults of the past and has joined hands with the party they loathe - all in the name of the oft-repeated slogan that has run its course of “keeping communal elements at bay”. With reduced seats and having come third, the JD(S) is not kingmakers but the king. Aligning with the BJP would have ruined whatever little is left of their credibility and trustworthiness, and also put Deve Gowda out of reckoning for the much-anticipated federal front, just like Nitish Kumar was ostracised after joining the National Democratic Alliance. Hence, a BBMP kind of model, where the BJP sits out despite emerging as the single largest party, and they make a backdoor entry by stealth with the Congress was their best dream come true.
But even as the final tally trickled in by evening Prime Minister Narendra Modi, party president Amit Shah and several ministers and MPs sent out tweets congratulating the Karnataka karyakartas, followed by a subdued celebration at their headquarters. This was a subtle message to the state unit and the fence sitters that they were still very much in the race and had not conceded defeat. Having fallen just sight seats short of a majority, the BJP of 2018 is not the one to sit quietly and watch the Congress and JD(S) solemnise their marriage of convenience.
With the Reddys back in the reckoning, Operation Kamala 2.0 is a missile just waiting to be launched. The numerous corrupt and criminal elements, who are aplenty in the newly minted coalition, would suddenly start facing the heat of the law. Without appearing greedy for power or breaking any constitutional and legal protocols, the BJP might also be inclined to sit out till the Lok Sabha polls and give their opponents a chance to further discredit themselves and ensure that the incompatible alliance will shatter under the weight of its own contradictions and the gigantic egos of the players involved.
Even as this piece goes out, news trickles in of Yeddyurappa taking over as the Chief Minister and given time to prove his majority. How the deficit of seven seats to pave the way for a legal and stable government will be bridged is something the BJP is holding close to its chest. It opens up several issues of political morality and horse-trading, but unfortunately none of the three players in this sordid game come out smelling of roses in any case.
The ultimate loser in all this political hara kiri will sadly be Karnataka, with a return of the same noxious money games and instability that has become all too familiar in the state now. As the natak unfolds, for the voters of Karnataka, it is a tragic case of the more things change, the more they remain the same. But that is what the voter herself seems to have willed with Mandate-2018.