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‘Con Science’ to Conscience: Karnataka Polls a Trailer for 2019?

BJP badly needs to establish a beachhead in southern India & it is willing to pay any price for power.

Updated
Opinion
5 min read
Siddaramaiah (L) and Yeddyurappa (R).
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I was amused to read about Amit Shah’s recent faux pas. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s alter ego, the Bharatiya Janata Party president told an election rally that the Yeddyurappa government (2008-2011) was one of Karnataka’s most corrupt.

Shah’s tongue may have slipped, but will the BJP, raring to rewrite history, repeat it? The ruling party badly needs to establish a beachhead in southern India. It is willing to pay any price for power.

It has jettisoned much of its highfalutin talk of good, clean governance as it lines up its battering rams in the land of Basaveshwara, whose statue Modi paid homage to on the Thames riverbank in London in April.

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Three Strikes Against Yeddyurappa

Basaveshwara is the 12th-century patron saint of the Lingayats. The Lingayat vote is important for the BJP to reach the magic 113-seat victory mark in the Assembly. Its most prominent Lingayat face is Yeddyurappa.

And who needs enemies when you have friends like Yeddyurappa? He is both the state party president and the long-proclaimed chief ministerial candidate (strike one for the BJP, which tends to keep its party apparatus separate).

He has also crossed the retirement cut-off age of 75 (strike two) set by Modi. And he masterminded the return to the BJP fold of the notorious Reddy brothers of Bellary, who control a chunk of valuable votes (strike three).

Small consolation that BSY’s son was denied a ticket to fight Congress Chief Minister Siddaramaiah’s son. True to Congress’s dynast style, Siddaramiah is contesting two seats.

One headline said Modi would launch his blitzkrieg in Karnataka on Tuesday, a rather unfortunate choice of word, when he is under the watchful gaze of the Sri Rama Sene’s storm-troopers. Nothing daunted, the prime minister spoke in Belagavi district, where BJP candidate Sanjay Patil recently said the elections are not about drinking water and roads, but about Hindus and Muslims.

Too busy to read? Listen to it instead.

Patil advised the CM to move to Pakistan after the Congress government celebrated Tipu Sultan’s birth anniversary in November 2017.

And who can forget Modi’s junior Skills Minister Anantkumar Hegde, MP from Uttara Kannada and seen as a rival to Yeddyurappa, who said a few months ago that the Modi government had been elected to expunge the word ‘secular’ from the Constitution?

Of Loose Lips & Hidden Dirt

Loose lips sink ships, but the BJP obviously thinks it has a large enough fleet to stay afloat, judging by the outrageous talk from worthies like new Tripura Chief Minister Biplab Deb, who is dishing out free advice on everything from internet in the Mahabharata, to paan shops and the virtues of milking cows, to Diana Hayden’s Miss World title.

This is not surprising. Former Chief Justice of India RM Lodha said last week that lower courts would take their cue from the chaos in the Supreme Court. Similarly, the scripts that Modi and Shah have been following in their Karnataka campaign speeches do not come with an expiry date. If the leadership can snap into insult and provocation so effortlessly, you can bet the rank-and-file will take that as a licence to be shrill too.

The debate about simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and state assemblies, which Modi has said he would dearly like to achieve, is gathering volume and velocity. While we wait and see how it pans out, do we really know how much dirt flows through the gutters of our election campaigns?

It’s anybody’s guess. The official figures – and you can bet they are a fraction of the real totals – say that until 25 April, flying squads, surveillance teams, police, and prohibition and excise officials had seized a total of 461,000 liters of liquor worth Rs 21.56 crore, 14.5 kilograms of gold worth Rs 3.6 crore, and cash totalling Rs 46.15 crore (of which Rs 28.77 crore was apparently legitimate and was later ‘released’).

And there were still two weeks of campaigning left. The cash was all in high denomination bills of Rs 2,000 and Rs 500.

“It has been found that the bulk of cash seized during operations in the present Assembly elections was meant for distribution,” a poker-faced Election Commission said, noting that in the 2013 campaign “only Rs 4.97 crore” of cash had been seized.

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I do not believe we will ever get an accurate accounting for the money spent on the Karnataka elections, but what all this expenditure will achieve in terms of vote shares remains to be seen.

An analysis of election data is fruitful. In the 2013 elections the BJP won 40 seats with about 19.9 percent of votes cast, while Congress won 122 seats with a 36.6 percent vote share. Note that Congress’s vote share rose only marginally from the 2008 Assembly elections, when it got 35.13 percent (and won 80 seats) while BJP’s vote share was down sharply from 33.9 percent (winning 110 seats).

Congress’s vote share in Karnataka actually rose to 41.15 per cent in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, but it won only 9 of the state’s 28 seats in Parliament, while the BJP won 17 seats with a 43.4 per cent of votes, which was more than twice its 2008 share. So it is difficult to tell if there is a strong wind propelling either party.

Both are trailed by a tawdry reputation in Karnataka, and both lack any national leader of stature and charisma from the south. The BJP has only one Kannadiga – Ananth Kumar – in its 94-member National Executive. Congress has Mallikarjun Kharge and BK Harikumar on its Steering Committee.

It also has from Karnataka, Veerappa Moily, an old loyalist, and Jairam Ramesh, who represents Andhra Pradesh in the Rajya Sabha. The BJP has a long road to travel in the south: Modi needed a translator during his Chamarajanagar speech on Tuesday.

Vote Bank Politics? What’s That!

Yet our leaders strive mightily, as Tranio put it in The Taming Of The Shrew. They strive tirelessly. They quaff the poison of bigotry and rub shoulders with the Dalit, the shoshit, the vanchit, the peedit – the downtrodden, the suffering, and those hurt by discrimination.

And why not? Modi is taking Dalit anger very seriously. He told BJP MPs to spend at least two nights in Dalit villages. I overheard one of his ministers planning such a trip, complete with a two-and-a-half kilometre trek down a dirt road, simple meals of dal, roti and one subzi.

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh is also taking the Dalits seriously. It was quick to put down talk that its Sarsanghchalak, Mohan Bhagwat, had called the BJP’s inter-dining campaign a ‘drama’. National propaganda chief Arun Kumar said the RSS does not believe in any caste-based discrimination. “Since its inception, the RSS has been votary of ‘one temple, one well and one cremation ground’ for all,” he said in a 4 May statement.

Did I hear the BJP say it doesn’t believe in vote banks? Census 2011 shed some light: Muslims totalled 172.2 million, or 14.2 percent of the population. The Scheduled Castes totalled 201.4 million, or 16.6 percent.

Go figure which vote bank is more important, and why our leaders are striving mightily to grow a conscience.

(Chaitanya Kalbag is an award-winning journalist and has worked in several countries over more than 43 years. He was Editor, Asia with Reuters News Agency, Editor-in-Chief of Hindustan Times, and Editor at Business Today. He can be followed @chaitanyakalbag on Twitter. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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