Karnataka Polls: Congress-Mukt Bharat May Come Back to Haunt BJP
Karnataka Polls: Congress-Mukt Bharat May Come Back to Haunt BJP
(Photo: Harsh Sahani / The Quint)

Karnataka Polls: Congress-Mukt Bharat May Come Back to Haunt BJP

Despite emerging as the largest party in a fractured verdict in the Karnataka Assembly polls, the BJP is faced with an annoying dilemma.

This was evident from the furrows on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s brow in what should have been an occasion for celebration at the party office on the evening of the results.

It was evident that the BJP’s defeated rival Congress had managed to rain on Modi’s victory parade by its audacious move, offering the chief minister’s post to Janata Dal (S) which came third.

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BJP’s Fear Not Bagging Another Term in K’Taka

It was an offer that the ambitious HD Kumaraswamy, son of Janata Dal (S) supremo and former prime minister Deve Gowda, simply could not refuse, belying earlier rumours that he had a secret deal with BJP President Amit Shah. The resultant alliance between the Congress and the Janata Dal (S) has raised the prospect of the BJP being denied from bagging yet another term in the state.

It is still possible that the BJP with the help of a compliant state governor – and a national party president whose reputation of inveigling elected representatives to do his bidding is legendary – can still come to power in Karnataka. But this will rob much of the moral sheen of its otherwise creditable performance in the state Assembly polls, inevitably arousing much controversy and legal wrangling.

More importantly, an all out bid to break away individual legislators from the Congress-Janata Dal (S) coalition could actually drive the two parties closer in an alliance that would become a formidable electoral combination in Karnataka.

An analysis by The Indian Express newspaper, calculating the respective vote shares of the Congress and the Janata Dal (S) constituency wise, estimated that had they contested with a pre-poll analysis they would have swept the polls, getting more than a two-thirds majority.

What will worry the BJP more is that should the Congress and the Janata Dal (S) continue with their alliance for next year’s Lok Sabha elections as they intend to do at the moment, the former could be reduced to just six out of the 28 seats elected to Parliament from the state – a massive drop from the 17 they got in the 2014 elections.

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Larger Political Implications of K’Taka Poll Outcome

Indeed, even in the two Assembly constituencies in Bengalaru, where polls have to be held again after being countermanded because of the fake voter ID controversy, the BJP many find it difficult to win if faced by a Congress-Janata Dal (S) combine.

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This is the reason why a section in the BJP leadership reportedly feels that the party should move with caution in its attempts to form a government with breakaway legislators from the rival coalition and that it may be better to wait till contradictions develop within the hastily put together alliance and then destabilise the government.

Yet, regardless of the way the government formation drama in Bengalaru plays out, there are larger political implications beyond Karnataka – of both the state Assembly poll outcome and the surprise decision by the Congress to concede leadership to the Janata Dal (S) despite the latter having less than half the number of elected legislators.

There is little doubt that the abject failure of the Congress to get a second term in Karnataka despite the hype around Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, further diminishes the stature of the grand old party of India. Regardless of getting two percent more votes than the BJP, the very nature of electoral politics and first past the post system requires success or failure in elections to be determined by the number of seats won or lost.

The Karnataka polls therefore cannot but be regarded as yet another illustration of the fading of the Congress, comprehensively thrashed by the BJP political machine led by Modi and managed by Shah.

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Cong Concedes Top Leadership

While one more electoral humiliation will no doubt leave the Congress and newly appointed President Rahul Gandhi bruised and battered, it may also help the party to come to terms with the contemporary realities of India and the limited role they are likely to play in the emerging coalition of political forces across various regions of the country to battle the predominant leader and party – the BJP.

The fact that the Congress was so desperate to stop the Modi juggernaut that it gave up vital political space to a smaller party in Karnataka should not be seen just as a tactical ploy.

It could also be an indication of the party’s readiness to accept partnership with a whole range of regional outfits, fighting the BJP ‘gorilla’ in the room without insisting that it should be given a leadership position in the battle ahead.

Paradoxically enough, by being so successful in his declared mission of “Congress-mukt Bharat”, Modi may have inadvertently facilitated a broad-based federal front of regional chieftains in which the Congress is just one of the many political outfits that can no longer claim a pan-national stature but dominance only in a few regions.

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BJP’s Catch-22

Indian politics has never been a two party system with a predominant Congress confronted till the mid-nineties by a combination of smaller parties, their success depending on how united they were against a common enemy.

This was followed by a twenty-year-long period when two coalitions – one led by the Congress and the other by the BJP – battled it out.

Since 2014, the BJP, first by winning a clear majority in the parliamentary polls and then snapping up one state after the other in the Assembly elections, has returned the country to the era of a political behemoth led by a larger-than-life leader that can only be defeated if opposed together by the others.

For the BJP, it would be a strange irony of history, if by systematically destroying the pan-Indian stature of the Congress (forcing it to fall in line with other smaller parties), it also sowed the seeds of its own defeat.

(The writer is a senior Delhi-based journalist. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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