Karnataka election results: Whoever forms next govt, verdict was rebuff of Congress' divisive politics, cheap populism

It was a political thriller like no other in recent years. Just after the BJP looked set to get a simple majority in the Assembly (as the results of the 12 May election were trickling through on Tuesday), its tally slid below the halfway mark. As the single largest party with a strength of 104 seats in a house of 224 — polling didn’t take place in two constituencies, the BJP staked claim to form a government. With just 38 members, HD Kumaraswamy of the Janata Dal (Secular) also threw his hat in the ring with support from the Congress that has 78 seats.

Governor Vajubhai Vala has reserved his decision on both claims. There have been too many precedents — most recent of them being in Goa, Manipur (2017) and Meghalaya (2018) — for the governor to ignore the claim of the post-poll alliance of JD(S) and Congress. But he may use the "discretion" that a state’s constitutional head is entitled to use and call on BJP to form the government on the pretext that the party came so close to a simple majority. If Vala uses the second option, he will invite upon himself the allegation of murdering democracy. The last hasn’t been heard of the political circus in Karnataka.

In fact, it’s just beginning.

Rebuff to Congress policies

But whoever forms the government, one thing was clear from the election verdict. Caste politics and populism, with some claptrap about Kannada identity thrown in, that the outgoing Congress chief minister Siddaramaiah unashamedly used as a tool to win elections backfired on him badly.

Some could argue that Siddaramaiah's debacle must be seen as a victory of not the BJP, but Narendra Modi, whose arrival in the final stage of campaigning revved up what till then looked like a lacklustre and direction-less campaign by his party.

The election not only proved that Modi's vote-catching magic extends even south of the Vindhyas but also nearly rewarded his party with the Gateway to the South. His swashbuckling charm dazzled and impressed voters, as he explained at rally after rally with dramatic flourish the shortcomings of the Siddaramaiah government more effectively than any state BJP leader could.

Outgoing Karnataka CM Siddaramaiah and JD(S) president HD Kumaraswamy address the media on Tuesday. PTI

Outgoing Karnataka CM Siddaramaiah and JD(S) president HD Kumaraswamy address the media on Tuesday. PTI

Divisive politics rejected

The result of all this was an unmitigated electoral disaster for Congress whose strength crashed from 122 seats it won in 2013 to just 78 this time. They rejected Siddaramaiah’s divisive politics aimed at splitting Hindus and mollycoddling minorities, mindless tactics that led to hitherto unheard of tensions. And the electorate refused to be baited by the chief minister’s unabashed populist schemes that he unleashed in the garb of welfare schemes under the mistaken belief that they would help him tide over the anti-incumbency sentiment.

Siddaramaiah’s admirers, Modi-baiters and Left-leaning intellectuals hail the Congress chief minister’s welfare schemes as instruments of socialism, but Karnataka’s voters have driven home the point that cheap populism is no replacement for good governance. The widespread woes of farmers, corruption and pathetic infrastructure are the stuff of which anti-incumbency is made.

The scale of the thrashing that the Congress received in this election must have come as a surprise even to Siddaramaiah himself although he began to see the signs of the debacle when Modi began his tour of the state.

Despite its failure to cross the halfway mark in the Assembly, the BJP did remarkably well even in regions it was not expected to, while the Congress did miserably in areas it was expected to sweep. In the process, Karnataka also stuck to the trend of always voting out an incumbent government since 1985, although Congress is now making an attempt to grab power through the backdoor in the guise of so-called secularism.

Ahinda formula failed

The effect of anti-incumbency on account of a virtual lack of governance was made worse by Siddaramaiah’s politics of Ahinda — Kannada acronym for Alpa sankhyatara, Hindulida, Dalit (minorities, backward castes and Dalits). It's too early yet to say which castes voted against Congress, but it was evident during the campaign that not everybody under the Ahinda umbrella was happy with the government for reasons that differed from one region to another.

Siddaramaiah paid dearly for his excessive dependence on caste algebra. He refused to learn lessons from the disasters of social engineering from the likes of Mayawati in Uttar Pradesh. He failed to understand that pampering one section of society went with the risk of antagonising another. While his excessive pampering of his own Kuruba community in the Old Mysore region antagonised other backward classes, more than half the Dalits — known as Left Dalits — were angry with the government for not making good its promise of reorganising benefits within the many Scheduled Castes.

Lingayat move backfires

More importantly, his move to accord the status of a separate minority religion to upper caste Lingayats not only backfired, but made the competing upper caste of Vokkaligas mobilise behind either the BJP or JD(S) in parts of the state. This explains the BJP's good performance even in Vokkaliga constituencies. It was evident during the campaign that even Lingayats saw the move as no more than electoral subterfuge designed to split Hindus with the ulterior design of breaking up the BJP's traditional vote bank.

Though Congress leaders including Rahul Gandhi never lost no chance to revile the BJP for embracing the infamous Reddy brothers, the kingpins of the Bellary shame, their campaign had no credibility and conviction with the public perception of the Siddaramaiah government itself being that of a regime seeped in corruption of the worst kind.

Elections not fought on Twitter

The Karnataka verdict also must prove to Siddaramaiah that Twitter is no place to fight elections. While his smart tweets, whether authored by himself or by hired backroom boys, made him a larger-than-life hero with the gumption to take on Modi, the BJP crushed Congress with its famous micro-planning and messages spread to booth-level voters via the less elitist Whatsapp platform.

The author tweets @sprasadindia

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Updated Date: May 16, 2018 07:11 AM

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