Karnataka shows the way to 2019


To take on the might of BJP, Congress needs to

form part of a joint front of Opposition parties


By HarvinderAhuja

The results of the Assembly elections in Karnataka have significant lessons and ominous portents for the battle lying ahead in 2019.

After emerging as the single largest party, the BJP muscled its way to power with the collusion of a pliant Governor and suffered huge ignominy in the process. The Congress, which was trounced in yet another state, showed late wisdom by aligning with a regional player post-results and being aggressivein government-formation. As a result, Janata Dal (Secular) leader HD Kumaraswamy, whose party came second with 37 seats, is set to take oath as the CM on Wednesday with the second-placedCongress being his coalition partner.

Having won 104 seats in a House with effective strength of 222, the BJP fell eight short of the magic number. This, however, didn’t stop it from overlooking its own recent precedents and getting BS Yeddyurappa installed as the Chief Minister. A Governor with RSS past, not just bypassed the Cong-JDS claims, but gave an unusually long period of 15 days to BSY to prove majority. That obviously left a huge room open for defections and horse-trading, which the BJP was banking upon, and confident of. The alliance, however, was quick enough in rushing to the Supreme Court which,without staying the swearing-in, cut the floor test window from 15 days to 36 hours. And that proved to be the nemesis for BSY who had to quit before putting the confidence motion to vote.

So, the biggest takeaway from the Karnataka episode has been the role played by the apex court. By opening its doors pastmidnight and conducting ahearing lasting pre-dawn, the SC has proved once again that it is the one institution in the country which is still robust. Had it not been for the court’s intervention, the BJP with its machinations would have easily succeeded in its wily mission. If the post-poll coalition could stick aroundand poaching bids could be thwarted, a major credit goes to the SC for advancing the trust vote deadline.

For the Bharatiya Janata Party, which showed undue haste in grabbing power without having the requisite numbers, the biggest lesson is that winning should not be the only thing it should focus on. Making the country ‘Congress-mukt’ might be a good catchphrase, but in that process the party can’t afford to throw all norms of probity to winds. It didn’t require arocket science to know that the only way the BJP could go from 104 to 112 was through bribing the MLAs or instilling the fear of Central agencies in them.

But for the intrigues it set out to unleash to form a government, the results in Karnataka can certainly be dubbed as morale-booster for the BJP. Although it fell short of majority, becoming the single party with 104 seats is no mean achievement. The resultsre-established the fact that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is the most formidable leader in the country and his vote-wining charisma is still intact. Once again, he turned the tide for the party almost single-handedly.

As for the Congress, it should come be an awakening. It’s time the party realised that despite its so-called legacy and pan-India footprints, it just doesn’t have the potential to take on the Modi might on its own. The party lacks a motivated cadre, its organisational structure at district and state levels is crumbling and it has no alternative vision to offer.

The biggest negative for the Congress is that its President Rahul Gandhi is no patch on Modi. Though comparatively younger in age, he does not have the kind of connect with voters which the PM enjoys. Be it oratorical skills, stage presence or striking a chord with cross-section of people, Rahul comes a cropper when pitted against the BJP star-campaigner. After his repeated failures in other states, Rahul could win only 78 seats for the party in Karnataka having camped there for 25 days and addressed 38 rallies.

That brings us to the biggest lesson which the Congress and the rest of the Opposition need to learn from Karnataka, which is to put up a joint fight against the Modi-Shah onslaught in 2019. The onus for this lies largely with the Congress. The party must do introspection, accept the ground reality, shed arrogance and be willing to be a part of a grand alliance without insisting on leadership role. It must acknowledge that regional parties in the country are now a strong force and they have their respective areas of influence.The Congress should be willing to cede ground to them in those domains.

If Karnataka could be salvaged from the clutches of the BJP, it was only because some wise men in the Congress decided to ally with the JDS and surrender the chief ministerial post to it.  The combined vote percentage of the Congress and the JDS in the state was over 56 per cent as against 36.4 pc garnered by the BJP. A simple arithmetic can tell us how different the story would have been had the two parties aligned before the polls and put up a joint fight against the BJP!

The SP and the BSPscripted a similar storywhen they came together against the BJP for the by-elections in UP recently. TMC’s Mamata has been repeatedly calling for a joint front against the BJP in 2019 general elections. Miffed with the BJP, Chandrababu Naidu of the TDP has shown willingness to be part of such a front and Naveen Patnaik of the BJD may also not be averse. The Congresshas, hopefully, read the writing on the wall and it should be proactive in joining forces with these regional biggies. Otherwise, its Modi versus Nobody in 2019!

(The author is consulting Editor from New Delhi and can be reached at harrysnigi@gmail.com)