"On what basis did the Governor take this decision?" asked Supreme Court Justice A.K. Sikri, while hearing on the petition challenging Karnataka Governor's decision to call the BJP which was the single largest party when the Congress-JD(S) combine had a larger number of legislators that was above the simple majority mark. It was a question that the whole country was asking.
Politics in India can baffle or even stupefy anybody. Elections throw up unexpected results. Candidates with criminal records win. Chief Ministerial candidates may have spent time in jail for corruption, but it does not stop political parties from idolising them. Political leaders of the highest level mouth lies, spread hatred through their speeches and polarise society. Cash in crores is doled out as unauthorized election expenses. Lawmakers are bundled and taken away to a resort so that the flock is safely away from those trying to make deals, bribe them and win them over. This time in Karnataka we found one more ingenious idea: Voters were paid not to vote and to ensure that, their voter ID cards were taken away.
All three major parties in the fray slung dirt at each other desperate to polarise the electorate on whatever plank they could-caste, community, religion, gender and even poverty. Real issues like economic growth, agriculture distress, unemployment, water shortages and so on were given the short shrift.
Voters today are restless and do not hesitate to throw out governments wanting change. But, they also get swayed by propaganda and show. Many do not vote for candidates; they vote for their caste or community. There are no moral codes anymore. What matters is power and not how you get there. Look at Karnataka. It all played out there.
In the recent past, Karnataka has not elected the same government again. They have always voted for change. But, this time, chief minister Siddaramaiah thought he would buck the trend having a fairly good record of governance. There was no palpable anger he attracted from voters. Initially, political observers felt that the Congress would ride back to power. But aggressive campaigning by Modi and his party in the last few days changed the tide. Voters got polarised.
This election was crucial for Modi in the run-up to 2019 Lok Sabha elections. It was also crucial for Deve Gowda to demonstrate his relevance even though he has crossed 80. He had the powerful Vokkaliga community throwing their weight behind the JD(S) hoping to be in the limelight if the party captured power giving a new leverage to them. Of late, the community felt they had been marginalised by both the Congress and the BJP.
Gowda is no greenhorn. He has survived many political battles. He anticipated that in case of a hung assembly, he would definitely be the kingmaker.
It was hardly a surprise that ethical norms were thrown out of the window as many candidates had disproportionate assets. Many had criminal records. Ultimately, it was all about money and power and the lust to get both. Many candidates were hand-picked by their parties as they were cash rich as they belonged to the flourishing real estate sector. Only seven candidates had assets less than Rs. 100 crore. All the others were crorepatis! A study of assets had shown that the MLAs had grown rich during their term indicating how lucrative a profession politics had become.
The Association for Democratic Reforms that have been demanding transparency in the way money is spent during elections, found in a study that in the last financial year, the BJP had managed to mop up funds five times more than the Congress. In the last few state elections in Gujarat, Uttarakhand, Goa, Tripura, Nagaland, and Meghalaya, it was evident that the Congress was relatively strapped for funds.
The BJP chose Yeddyurappa, who in his previous stint as the chief minister was embroiled in scandals, as the chief ministerial candidate in 2018 as they had no other regional leader who could take on someone as grounded as Siddharamaiah. He was also a Lingayat leader who could pull votes from the influential community. Funnily, BJP President Amit Shah inadvertently mentioned in one of his rallies that the “Yeddyurappa government was the most corrupt.” It was quickly picked up by social media. What Shah wanted to say was that Siddharamaiah’s government was corrupt. Allegations of corruption in this election did not stick as the BJP had given tickets to candidates who had charges of serious corruption against them.
We saw how a Prime Minister addressed 21 rallies and got his cabinet to crisscross the state fanning into every constituency to campaign. Governance in Delhi did not matter; winning a state in the south where the BJP did not have a state government mattered. They even got poster boy Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath from Uttar Pradesh, one of the worst run states in India, to campaign. The idea was to polarise as far as possible. It was one of the most aggressive campaigns and a bitter one at that. Name calling, baseless allegations, lies, unholy alliances, tickets to questionable candidates, et al. In the end, the saffron party emerged as the largest single party with 104 seats but short of the 112 figure for a simple majority to form the government.
As BJP offices all over the country celebrated on the morning of May 15 as election results indicated that the BJP was ahead of the Congress, they had no inkling that Sonia Gandhi and the Congress President Rahul Gandhi would on a platter offer support to the Janata Dal (Secular) to head the government with H.D.Kumaraswamy as the chief minister. The Congress had won 78 seats and the JD (S) had won just 38. But as a coalition formed after the polls, it had a strength of 116.
Kumaraswamy drove to the Raj Bhavan to request Governor Vajubhai Vala to invite him to form the government. It was then that the BJP cried foul saying that they should be called as they were the largest single party. Why was the BJP so incensed by the Congress move to whip up a coalition and show that they have the numbers needed? How did the BJP form a government in Meghalaya, Manipur, and Goa when they got fewer seats than the Congress? It was okay when the governors of these three states asked them to form the government and not the Congress. When the Congress-JD(S) combine did the same in Karnataka, BJP makes a furore. Double standards! That is why this election in Karnataka is not about who forms the government. It is about how dubious ways have become the fulcrum around which politics revolve. As long as you get power, it does not really matter how you got there is the new normal. Clearly, constitutional norms or propriety was not in play in any of these three states where BJP rode roughshod into power.
The BJP could have tied up with the JD(S). But having won so many seats they did not want to share power with a regional party. Also, former Prime Minister Deve Gowda who is the principal strategist of the JD(S) had publicly warned son Kumaraswamy, a former chief minister, that he would disown him if he ever tied up with the BJP. Moreover, an alliance between the two, over five years ago, was a bitter experience. Initially during the campaign, it seemed that the BJP was wooing Gowda as Modi went and met him. Maybe, Modi’s idea was to drum up a coalition with JD(S) in case the BJP fell short of numbers. But, when Gowda publicly announced that he would disown Kumaraswamy if he allied with the BJP, the saffron party’s strategy had changed.
Governors are above party politics; at least that is what it is supposed to be. But Vala was finance minister in Gujarat when Modi was the chief minister and both shared a cordial relationship. It hardly came as a surprise when Vala invited Yeddyurappa to form the government and gave him 15 days to prove his strength on the floor of the house.
The Congress moved the Supreme Court to challenge the Governor’s decision citing both constitutional and judicial precedents. Though Yeddyurappa was allowed to swear in as planned on May 17, the court ruled a floor test be conducted on May 19 to prove his majority.
Unable to cobble up support and with Congress and JD(S) making public BJP’s attempts at poaching MLAs, the BJP leadership realised that the party cannot afford to go down further in public perception. With no other options left before him, Yeddyurappa stepped down without conducting the floor test.
We saw political parties plunge their narratives to the lowest denominator of public taste during the Karnataka campaigns. It was a sign of desperation and a lack of confidence. Lies were being pedalled to sway voters. Instead of dwelling on what he had been able to deliver in the last four years, Prime Minister Modi twisted historical facts to make baseless allegations against Nehru saying that he had insulted top army generals who were from Karnataka when nothing of the kind had happened. Trying to woo the Dalits who constitute 20 percent of the Karnataka electorate, he harped on how he had made a Dalit the president and how a humble chaiwala like him had risen to become the Prime Minister during the BJP regime. We will hear this again and again as 2019 inches closer.(Published on 21st May 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 21)