As Karnataka sets out to vote on Sunday, one cannot help but feel that this has been an election of ifs and buts. The biggest 'If' of them all being, what if BS Yeddyurappa had stayed back in the BJP. The support base for the ruling party on social media would have us believe that it would have been a cakewalk for the BJP then, as the only reason why it will lose this election is because Yeddyurappa is playing an angry spoiler.
On the face of it, they are right. That is if you interpret and analyse an election only as a psephologist. Yeddyurappa, the only pan-Karnataka leader the BJP had, is hurting his alma mater by eating into its vote share. So even if he takes away between 5 to 7 percent of the vote in many of his strong pockets, especially in the Lingayat-dominated northern Karnataka region, the BJP would be left with a bloody nose.
But statistics rarely tell the entire story. The only-if-BSY-was-still-around lobby is wrong because by interpreting the possible verdict of the people merely as an arithmetical exercise, they are missing a vital point. That there is genuine disappointment at the manner in which the BJP has governed Karnataka since 2008. Three chief ministers in five years is the stuff Congress governments are usually made of. The BJP by patenting the formula of musical chairs, did nothing for its claim of being a party with a difference.
Ok, let us assume for a moment that Yeddyurappa did not choose to be a hitman. Would the BJP have risked going to the election with a man with corruption charges in the leadership position? The argument put forth is the voters no longer bother about corruption, their only concern is governance and delivery of services.
There is no written in stone rule that says this is the way it is. In neighbouring Tamil Nadu, even though the DMK government did not falter badly on governance issues, it was overthrown in 2011 because the people frowned upon the monumental corruption the leadership had allegedly indulged in and the control of one family over just about everything in the state.
But across the border in Andhra Pradesh, people voted the Y S Rajasekhara Reddy-led Congress back to power in 2009, despite the serious corruption charges against him because they felt the welfare agenda pursued by him - student scholarships, old age pensions, Arogyasri, housing scheme etc - benefited every not-so-well-to-do family at an individual level. But yes, while they gift wrapped YSR a second term, they gave him a warning as well, by bringing down the Congress strength in the Assembly from 185 (in 2004) to 156, just eight seats above the halfway mark.
Where the BJP faltered was the manner in which they opened the innings in Karnataka. The day they let the Bellary brothers bankroll their minority-to-majority status, the BJP lost much of its sheen. 'Operation Kamala' to seduce Independents and other party MLAs was proof that the BJP was willing to get its hands dirty to govern, by hook and by crook. Having mortgaged their existence to Reddy money, the BJP leadership - in Bangalore and in New Delhi - did not have the moral courage to tame their wild ways in the illegal mines of Bellary.
The bigger blunder was the manner in which the BJP mishandled the Yeddyurappa crisis. Once its chief minister was accused of being corrupt, made to resign and even sent to prison, it procrastinated, calculating the political fallout in terms of vote share instead of worrying about the dent to its moral standing and image. It allowed the corruption saga to degenerate into an BSY vs Ananth Kumar battle. Instead, if the BJP had decided to come down strongly on corruption immediately, and decided zero tolerance would be its policy, it would have won many admirers.
The two chief ministers who came after BSY provided a clean administration - at least there were no personal allegations against them. But they were seen heading governments that ran Karnataka on neutral gear.
The BJP now claims that with the exit of BSY and company, it has been purged of all corrupt elements. Likewise, Yeddyurappa claims that he has left a party that is still full of corrupt elements. A case of pot and the kettle calling each other black?
Karnataka voters are, in fact, spoilt for choice. To choose candidates among different corrupt political parties. The BJP - and its offshoots, the KJP and BSR Congress - proved hum kisise kam nahin when it came to lack of probity in public life. The Congress is plumbing to new depths as far as corruption is concerned at the national level. The Janata Dal (Secular)'s chief ministerial candidate H D Kumaraswamy has been indicted by Justice Santosh Hegde's report on illegal mining.
Which is why these elections offer very little hope of being a real gamechanger. The limited incentive for the voters can be to make an effort to vote for the most 'clean' candidate at the constituency level.