Karnataka: Modi’s moral dilemma and a pyrrhic victory

Even if the Congress lost the battle in Karnataka, the state has put Modi and Shah in a moral bind

Karnataka has stripped the last vestiges of the fig leaf from the Modi-Shah duo. Standing at the moral crossroads, any path they choose to tread can only lead to a mere pyrrhic victory

The BJP seems to have been hoist by its own petard. The Goa and northeast elections are not too distant a memory to recall how the BJP won only two seats in Meghalaya, yet formed a government in coalition even as the Congress as the single largest party in both Goa and Meghalaya was not even invited to form the government.

But neither Narendra Modi nor Amit Shah would have thought their chickens would have come home to roost so soon in Karnataka. After disregard of all constitutional norms and politically moral depravity, the Congress's swift action in offering the office of chief minister to the Janata Dal (Secular) and making a bid to form the government indeed must have come as a shock to the duo who have bent every rule in the game to form governments against the popular mandate in several states, including Bihar.

And now the BJP cannot even claim that the attempt in Karnataka by the Congress is against the popular mandate. For while they may have the largest number of seats, their vote percentage has slipped not just behind their own position in 2014. Indeed, they are nearly two percentage points behind the Congress in terms of vote share, which does give the latter more moral ground than Modi or Shah ever had to form governments in Goa or Meghalaya.

Even if the Congress lost the battle in Karnataka, the state has put Modi and Shah in a moral bind. Anything they do now is likely to be held up to scrutiny. If the duo twist the governor’s arms to invite the BJP as the single largest party, the Goa precedent can always be brought up to challenge that decision in the Supreme Court

At their victory meeting in New Delhi it was obvious the duo was doing its best to convince party workers that they had bested their rivals. But the fact cannot escape their notice that in 2008, the BJP in the state led by BS Yedyurappa had won 110 seats and then launched an ‘Operation Kamala’ (signifying their party symbol) to horse trade and make up their numbers.

A tally of 104 seats is really a poor showing for the combination of a Chhappan inch ki Chhaati and a Chanakya.

They may actually have done worse in relative terms than they did in Gujarat against the Congress with all state machinery at their disposal. If this is all they get after extreme polarisation of the voters, infusion of crores of rupees via the Reddy brothers, constant abuse and insult of Congress president Rahul Gandhi, carpet bombing by sending half the union cabinet to different parts of Karnataka in the last week of the campaign—and, of course, the ever present threat of the misuse of official machinery and institutions against the opposition—then both Modi and Shah have much to introspect about.

Sections of the media have slammed the Congress for their alleged immoral attempts to form the government in Karnataka against the popular mandate but the same critics now forget how they had lauded Shah's Chanakya ‘niti’ while he was doing the same in Goa.

Even if the Congress lost the battle in Karnataka, the state has put Modi and Shah in a moral bind. Anything they do now is likely to be held up to scrutiny. If the duo twist the governor's arms to invite the BJP as the single largest party, the Goa precedent can always be brought up to challenge that decision in the Supreme Court.

The apex court itself has earlier ruled that pre and post electoral coalitions with adequate numbers to provide a stable government are constitutionally permissible. If Modi and Shah do try to break legislators from other parties to make up their numbers, they are open to allegations of corruption.

If they let the Congress and JD(S) go ahead to form the government, they risk the loss of their reputation as a formidable election machine. Karnataka has stripped the last vestiges of the fig leaf from the duo. Standing at the moral crossroads, any path they choose to tread can only lead to a mere pyrrhic victory. With tremendous loss of the moral high ground.

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