Five questions to ponder after the Congress victory in Karnataka

The outgoing ruling party of Karnataka is still in power at the Centre. Will Karnataka reject its agenda in 2024?

Posters with QR codes and the face of Karnataka CM Bommai and the text "PAYCM" (left), and the face of PM Modi and the text "CRYPM" (right)
Posters with QR codes and the face of Karnataka CM Bommai and the text "PAYCM" (left), and the face of PM Modi and the text "CRYPM" (right)

Aakar Patel

Questions remain even now that the Karnataka Assembly elections are called, and finally declared.

There are questions that must be asked of the (soon-to-rule) Opposition, and I am sure others will ask them.

However, it is the party that (currently) governs the state and the Centre that is accountable, and so these questions must be asked of it and the man leading the nation.

An election is over in which the prime minister said that a ban on the Bajrang Dal was the same as an attack on Hanuman. One headline read: '"First they locked up Ram, now Hanuman…", says Modi after Congress pitches Bajrang Dal ban in poll manifesto.'

And then he said that the Indian National Congress was trying to get Karnataka to separate from India. The headline in the Indian Express was 'Congress Shahi Parivar calling for Karnataka secession, inciting foreign powers: PM Modi’.

Now that the elections are over and the Congress has won, will the Centre act on the prime minister’s belief? That is the first thing we have to think about.

How many voters believed that the Congress was asking for secession and voted they way they did for that reason? Did the prime minister himself believe his words, or was he using them to instil fear in voters?

If the latter, is that what prime ministers should be doing?

Perhaps the answer to that is "yes". That in a democracy, all is fair when it comes to electioneering and a little untruthfulness and allegation are fine.

And perhaps the answer is "no". That the prime minister must act responsibly. And perhaps the answer is that he actually believes it and therefore will treat the Congress not as an opponent but as the enemy.

It would not be correct to presume that the answer is one thing or another.

But since the act has happened we must not let it go and ask ourselves whether it was an acceptable thing to say. It is too grave a thing, in my opinion, to let go and say it was just a jumla (sloganeering).

The people who built the party in Karnataka, like the former chief ministers B.S. Yediyurappa and Jagadish Shettar, were cast aside before the election. So also was their centrism.

Yediyurappa said in interviews that he was not supportive of the BJP taking up things like hijab, love jihad, and so on. He did not say this because he was personally opposed to these things being governance issues, though he may have been. He was speaking as a man of the masses, telling his party to focus on real things which mattered.

In the stead of the older generation of leaders, the prime minister installed a younger, more aggressive set that amplified the majoritarian politics of the north Indian BJP. The results are before us.

For the BJP, Lingayat leader B.S. Yediyurappa has been a disposable asset (Courtesy: Twitter)
For the BJP, Lingayat leader B.S. Yediyurappa has been a disposable asset (Courtesy: Twitter)

The question is, given that the BJP made all these moves and that these moves were presumably approved by Modi, if not directed by him, who should accept the responsibility for the party's rout?

That is the second thing to consider as we absorb the results from Karnataka.

On a related note, it is a historical phenomenon that urban votes less than rural. But Bangalore, where the prime minister campaigned most heavily with his roadshows, voted 15 points less than the state and the BJP gave up space.

Next: The Kannadiga housewife and worker are not the only Indians suffering high household inflation, and the price of LPG cylinders is not different in Mysore and Mangalore from Ahmedabad, Patna and Srinagar.

Unemployment, which has been over 6 per cent since the end of 2018, is not particularly different in Karnataka than it is in Uttar Pradesh.

Anti-incumbency is not the burden of the BJP in Karnataka alone.

It is difficult also to say that the allegations of corruption against the state BJP do not reflect on the rest of the party when the Adani issue remains alive in the courts, in Parliament (when it is allowed to be) and in the media (at least the foreign one) and, above all, in the markets.

The third thing we have to ask ourselves, then, is whether all the things that went against the BJP in the towns and villages of Karnataka will vanish on their own next year, when they are asked again to choose a party.

Perhaps they will, but it is a question that must be asked.

The last thing that we must ask ourselves is this. Can we assume that issues unrelated to polarisation and division were foremost in people determining how they would vote? Or at least that, if such issues existed, they were marginal? Or that if they existed, they were thought of in negative terms?

And if this is the case, what is it that we can do to ensure that such things are better reflected in our media, in our political spaces, in our WhatsApp groups and in our dining-table conversations?

A nation is not its political parties or its leaders. It is the people, and politics is not what a few do, but how the many respond to it.

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