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26 May 2008

Mandate For Stability

Nithin Sridhar
I bow to thee: Before taking the oath as the 25th Chief Minister of Karnataka in Bangalore on 26 May, BS Yeddyurappa touches the feet of LK Advani as BJP national president Rajnath Singh looks on

The results of the Karnataka assembly elections are out and the BJP is all set to form the government with the support of a few independents.

This election has been crucial for several reasons. It is the first election after the process of delimitation which the Election Commission had conducted decently. There was no sight of banners or sound of loudspeakers blaring all around. Better still, hardly any incident of violence was reported from any part of the state. The elections have largely been free and fair as they were held in three phases. The BJP having got 110 seats, 32 more seats than its tally in 2004, is the clear winner. The JD(S), which got 27 seats, 31 less than its score the last time, is the clear loser. Results also show that the popular support is with the BJP and against the Congress which got 80 seats, 12 more than what it could manage the last time.

The mandate shows that people have voted for a stable government and against the dirty politics coalition governments have come to be associated with. It has shown that the people cannot always be fooled by kingmakers like HD Deve Gowda. They have voted for dynamism, development and freshness and against betrayal and dynasty politics.

The election results also show that clarity in campaigning and projection of a leader convinces the voter. The Congress lost because it neither had a clear leader nor clear issues. SM Krishna's magic did not work, perhaps owing to his late and hesitant entry into the fray. On the other hand, the BJP, whose strategy was micro-managed by Arun Jaitley, projected Bookanakere Siddalingappa Yeddyurappa as its Chief Ministerial candidate.

The BJP spoke on issues like price rise, terrorism and the JD(S)'s 'betrayal' in every chance it got during the electoral campaigns. This ensured that even though the Congress was more representative — the BJP did not field a single Muslim candidate — and had stooped to populist campaigns like promising free colour TVs to villagers, it failed to utilise the anti-JD(S) wave which was prevailing in the state.

With this victory, the BJP has crossed the Vindhyas, making inroads to the South. The BJP can no longer be considered a party of the 'Hindi hinterland' alone; it has now gained a pan-India image. In the Karnataka elections, caste has always been an important factor. Southern Karnataka (Bangalore, Mysore, Hassan and Mandya regions) has been Vokkaliga strongholds. Previously, the BJP was seen as a Lingayat party, largely owing to Yeddyurappa's being a Lingayat. This time, by achieving 19 seats in the Bangalore region and 7 in other southern regions, the party has made inroads into the Congress/JD(s) fortresses, so to speak.

Even in 'Hyderabad-Karnataka', perceived as a Congress stronghold, the BJP has managed to get 11 seats. It has done well in its strong bastions of central and coastal Karnataka with 30 and 13 seats respectively. This further means that the BJP has become a pan-Karnataka party too, shedding its Lingayat image.

The BJP's victory is likely to serve as its gateway to the South. This means that in the event of its loss in the elections in the states in the North, it can make up for the loses with the South cushioning the effect. This will boost the morale of the party workers. The Congress, which faced its 16th loss in the recent assembly elections, should rethink its strategy. As they say, "with great power, comes great responsibility", the BJP has now got a chance to rule Karnataka for the next five years, expectedly. Only time will tell if Yeddyurappa will be a real "mannina maga" (son of the soil), as the party workers believe, and handle his responsibility well.

The writer is a Mysore-based student of civil engineering


Surajit Dasgupta said...

The writer could have included further analyses in this article. While talking of the Congress, for example, he should have observed that the party commenced its campaign with a disadvantage: The President's Rule was seen by the average voter as the Centre's -- and, hence, the Congress's -- rule. Therefore, the anti-incumbency factor applied to it rather than the BJP, a partner in the coalition that ran the last Karnataka Government.

As for the BJP's so-called foray past the Vindhyas, it is ironical to see a south Indian writer club the whole of south India together. He should have known that Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala are characteristically different. A party's performance in any one of these states wouldn't normally have a bearing on its performance in any of the other three states. This observation holds even more if we notice that all the other states witness bi-polar division of votes: the DMK versus the (AI)ADMK in Tamil Nadu, the Congress versus the Telugu Desam Party in Andhra Pradesh and the coalitions UDF and LDF in Kerala. Such bi-polarity between two strong regional parties/coalitions was absent in Karnataka, and the JD(S) never held its sway in the state as much as the other regional parties do in their respective states of operation.

Before the JD(S), the Janata Dal fought the Congress, giving the fight the impression of a duel between two national parties. As the base of the Janata Dal slowly eroded because of the RK Hegde-Gowda slugfest, the BJP gradually began filling the vacancy for a non-Congress party in the state.

The closest in comparison to Karnataka would be Kerala where the leading parties of both the UDF and the LDF are national parties, both of which are too averse to the BJP to ally with it. The BJP is, therefore, going it alone in Kerala, with the RSS and the VHP making slow but steady inroads into the Kerala society.

In Tamil Nadu, the BJP -- as much as the Congress -- has no option but to ally with either the DMK or the (AI)ADMK. In Andhra Pradesh, it must look up to the TDP. None of these two states can see an independent BJP government in the foreseeable future.

The Karnataka-followed-by-the-rest-of-the-South theory simply does not hold, just as a Kannadiga is not a 'Madrasi', never mind that a semi-educated north Indian may identify every Indian living south of the Vindhyas in this quasi-racist manner.

Finally, the theory of 'betrayal' is right. But that the party that proved to be trecherous was the JD(S) is only implicit. Where is the description of the events as they unfolded? How does the reader understand why an average voter in Karnataka blamed the JD(S) and neither the BJP nor the Congress for the fall of the two previous coalition governments?

Nithin.S said...

Thank you for the comments.
I accept omission on my part about not elaborating the betrayal episode.

In the 2004 election, it was a hung assembly, with BJP being single largest party. Congress and JD(s) formed the Government on the pretext of keeping communal BJP out of power.
But, soon, the honeymoon was over.Kumaraswamy then joined hands with BJP forming Government, by claiming that, COngress tried to break JD(s).
When, it was time for Kumaraswamy to allow Yediyurappa to become CM, JD(s) again broke the government. It was all a political drama of Deve Gowda and his sons. For this, reason, Kannadigas largely see JD(s) responsible for unstable Government in Karnataka.

As for my mentioning the foray past Vindys, even though its true that, one cannot compare Bangalore with Madras, its true that BJP which was previously seen as party of "Hindi heartland", now has attained 'Pan-Indian' image. But, its true,Winning Karnataka will not mean Winning South.

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Surajit Dasgupta treats no individual, organisation or institution as a holy cow.