Karnataka is a blessing for Congress, which works best when fighting odds

Congress leader and Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah (left); BJP leader BS Yeddyurappa (centre); JD(S) chief HD Deve Gowda (top right); Deve Gowda’s son HD Kumaraswamy

The nation owes a debt of gratitude to the people of Karnataka for throwing up an electoral verdict that has put Modi and Shah in such a bind that they are damned if they do and damned if they don’t

The nation owes a debt of gratitude to the people of Karnataka for throwing up an electoral verdict that has put Narendra Modi and Amit Shah in such a bind that they are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. It was very unlikely that the duo, to whom elections mean everything, would stand down gracefully and allow the Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular) to form a government in the state. They have been clearly outwitted by the two parties and it is crucial for the survival of Indian democracy that the Congress put up the kind of bitter fight it is in, with every legal and constitutional resource at its disposal that will automatically expose not just the duplicity and hypocrisy of the BJP but also its scant respect for its own constitutional precedents and its lack of democratic values.

India is not quite a country given to bloody revolution. Mahatma Gandhi and the Congress eschewed violence, unlike many other countries with their alien rulers, to overthrow the British regime which did not know how to fight the weapon of non-violent non-co-operation. What is now beginning to get underway is nothing short of a similar peaceful resistance with Tejashwi Yadav of the Rashtriya Janata Dal petitioning the governor of Bihar to reconsider his invitation to the larger coalition of the BJP and the Janata Dal United of Nitish Kumar to form the government in the state. The RJD, which had sat in dharna outside the Raj Bhavan in Patna in July last year and not been invited despite being the single largest party, is now again pressing its claim on the basis of the Karnataka precedent.

So, will the Congress in Manipur and Goa. It is unlikely that the governors of these states, handpicked by Modi for precisely this reason, will give in to their demands. But it is very likely that the movement is starting the country on the way to opposition unity to defeat the BJP in 2019 and it will only gain momentum through the next few months leading up to elections in Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh and later the Lok Sabha.

The third generation had to fight to bring India out of the dark ages and make it a part of the globalised world. But once, under the UPA regime, the economy stabilised and both rural and urban Indians began to have a comfortable existence, the party sank into complacency and lost much of its fighting spirit.

The Karnataka results are a salutary lesson for the Congress as well. Even in states where it may be in a direct fight with the BJP it needs to tie up with smaller secular parties in order to keep the non-BJP vote share intact and not concede any more seats than necessary to the BJP. All said and done, today the Congress is the only party taking the BJP head on and Congress president Rahul Gandhi is the sole leader fighting Modi in unequivocal terms. However, as it has done in Karnataka, it might have to concede leadership in several states to its allies in order to keep the BJP out - for example, to the Nationalist Congress Party in Maharashtra or even to Sharad Pawar personally at the Centre, who may be the only leader able to weave and hold a coalition together in 2019.

Many Congressmen fear that ceding leadership, however temporarily, will marginalise their own party as they have been in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. But the alternative could only be the annihilation of all the secular parties who play by the rule book while the BJP does not.

That, however, could be a blessing in disguise to the Congress which has always been at its best while fighting against the odds – the mighty British during the freedom movement, forging a delicate unity after Partition against communal forces who would have further divided the country following the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi... After the nation stabilised the second-generation Congress leaders, including Indira Gandhi, had to fight poverty, hunger, the privileged classes, attempts by outside forces to destabilise the country which resulted in the very unfortunate Emergency of 1975. The third generation had to fight to bring India out of the dark ages and make it a part of the globalised world. But once, under the UPA regime, the economy stabilised and both rural and urban Indians began to have a comfortable existence, the party sank into complacency and lost much of its fighting spirit.

India’s first midnight tryst with destiny was on August 15, 1947. Her second midnight tryst was on May 17, 2018, more than 70 years later when the Congress and the JD(S) rightly moved the Supreme Court to hear their petition against the Karnataka governor’s partisan decision to not just swear in a minority government but also crush democracy and the Constitution underfoot

Modi has given the Congress and all other parties—most of them either breakaways of the Congress or not inimical to the nation’s interests—a reason to fight back again. And this fight, considering the implications of the drama unfolding in Karnataka, could be the mother of all battles for our very basic freedoms and survival as a nation, our pluralism our unity in our diversity. Our democracy, our Constitution.

If the BJP had more good sense and less naked greed, they would have trodden softly on this dangerous ground. Their timing, however, has been perfect from the point of view of the opposition. It leaves them with both enough time and urgency to work and weave together not too far ahead of the Lok Sabha polls that they should not be able to hold the momentum until D-day. Which might be sooner than we think for Modi and Shah are unlikely to tolerate the build up to opposition unity and give them enough room to consolidate their forces.

India’s first midnight tryst with destiny was on August 15, 1947. Her second midnight tryst was on May 17, 2018, more than 70 years later when the Congress and the JD(S) rightly moved the Supreme Court to hear their petition against the Karnataka governor’s partisan decision to not just swear in a minority government but also crush democracy and the Constitution underfoot. Even if the Congress loses this particular battle it must win the larger war, along with its allies, for the country. For that is likely to be our third and final war of Independence. This time against bigotry and autocracy. If we lose this war, we lose our souls.

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