Karnataka, as everyone thought, has really set the stage for the 2019 general election. Probably, no one had expected such a level of political drama, but it turned out to be an interesting spectacle. What ensued as an ugly Game of Thrones (after the electoral results) will definitely go down as an important event in Indian history.
Although the post-poll alliance of Congress and JD(S) staked the claim to form the government, Yeddyurappa was invited by the governor to form the government and was also given 15 days to prove their majority. The Supreme Court, on hearing the late-night appeal by the Congress and JD(S), did not adjourn the government but it did reduce the time for the floor test to two days. Yeddyurappa wasn’t able to prove their strength and had to resign from the post. Meanwhile, the alliance of the Congress and the JD(S) was supported by other regional parties like BSP, TMC and others, thus paving the way for a possible future coalition.
The whole episode, starting from the elections to the Congress-JD(S) alliance forming the government, has some key takeaways.
1. Neither the BJP nor the Congress have come out as winners. Instead, it’s the JD(S) that’s emerged as a winner (of sorts) here. The BJP might have won the largest number of seats (a few short of the majority), but they lost in their own game when the Congress, through its strategy, wrestled back to power in coalition with the JD(S).
However, the Congress had to relinquish its claim for the seat of chief minister – and thus, it ended up not being a victor, after all. JD(S) – the party which won the least number of seats among the three – not only ended up being a ‘king-maker’ but the king itself in the game. And, the Supreme Court, which seemed to have lost its credibility over the past few months by often succumbing to the government’s pressure, emerged as a lone defender of democracy – an unexpected and unacknowledged winner in its own right.
2. Although people vote for the BJP for different reasons, the call to Hindutva did play an important role in the Karnataka election, in my opinion. The BJP had relentlessly tried to polarise the election with its time-tested ‘Hindu versus Muslim’ debate – primarily by accusing the erstwhile Siddharamaiah government of siding with ‘jihadis’. This strategy did bear fruit.
Despite having failed in fulfilling its promises, and despite the policy failures and rising inflation, the BJP was able to win more seats and a large vote share here. It will not, therefore, be foolish to presume that a large number of these BJP voters voted for its Hindutva appeal.
To understand the situation intelligibly, a comparison can be made with the 2008 assembly election when Yeddyurappa hadn’t split with the BJP. In that election, the BJP had a vote-share of 33.86% and had won 110 seats. In this election, despite siding with the infamous Reddy brothers and having a large number of candidates with serious criminal charges, BJP’s vote-share increased to 36.2%. While the vote share for the Congress too increased from 36.6% in 2013 to 38% in 2018, we cannot ignore the JD(S) factor here.
It’s my speculation, but many voters may have expected a post-poll coalition of the BJP and the JD(S). Thus, a large number of votes got distributed. Many voters who wanted the BJP to come into power may have voted for the JD(S) – and many others, who may not have wanted Kumaraswamy as the chief minister, voted for the Congress instead of the JD(S). As a result, the BJP lost out on a majority by a very small margin of seven seats.
3. The ‘There Is No Alternative’ (TINA) factor is still a big one. Besides the Hindutva appeal, there were many supporters who voted for BJP (in 2014) for its promises of development. It’s possible that many of these people still do not see any alternative to Modi. Neither Rahul Gandhi nor any other opposition leader has been able to project themselves as a reliable alternative to Modi. Instead of winning their confidence, the people who supported BJP for their development agenda, have, in my opinion, instead been shamed into silence for their gullibility in putting their faith in the BJP. These voters, however, see the policy ‘failures’ as mistakes in the execution of policies which were genuinely meant for the good of the nation.
4. By now, it’s become apparent that if the Congress has to come back to power in 2019, it cannot do so without the help of the regional parties. And to make a strong pre-poll coalition, it will have to play a subsidiary role (perhaps by acting as glue) by giving a larger share to the regional parties.
One might otherwise argue, taking the cases of Punjab, Goa or Gujarat – where the Congress has seemingly fared well. But the role of the AAP or the Patel factor in these states cannot be written off. Although, this time, the Congress has a better opportunity to stand on its own at many places, as many regional parties have been subdued by the BJP. Be it the PDP in Jammu and Kashmir or the JD(U) in Bihar or other similar parties who initially voted to keep the BJP out of power but them made a coalition with it – these parties have lost a large voter-base because of their decision.
Furthermore, if we take Muslim voter base (with which the Congress has been maintaining a safe distance to clear its image from the taint of minority appeasement) into account, a shift of support towards regional parties can very well be seen. After all, for these communities, the battle for survival in the democracy is fought in the elections. In fact, the JD(S) has often claimed that it enjoys the support of the Muslims in the state. Hence, a stronger coalition is very much a possibility, but perhaps only when Congress enjoys a limited share of votes from such communities.
5. Most importantly, the post-poll Karnataka drama may have proved that after all, the BJP is just as corrupt as any other party, if not more. When the governor Vajubhai Vala invited BJP to form the government and gave them 15 days to prove their majority, the whole of India began to scrutinise the possibility of horse-trading. Furthermore, when it was alleged that the BJP was offering ₹100 crores to opposition members for switching sides, the BJP’s image was severely tarnished. It’s my belief that such allegations are going to haunt Modi whenever he claims to be a crusader against corruption.
Now, the Opposition has the best chance to unite against the BJP which has, in the last four years, come out as a formidable force. It will be interesting to see what the future course of action will be, from the Opposition’s side. The upcoming assembly elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh are only going to set more precedents in that direction.
The author hails from Gaya, Bihar. He is a freelance writer and a poet. He currently writes political columns for HW News.