Well done, Karnataka. I say this not because I have suddenly become a fan of the Congress Party. Or the Dynasty. I say it because there was an ugliness to the campaign that the BJP ran that needs to be called out and put on record. They deserved to lose. For me personally the most offensive thing was not the religiosity and the hysterical Hindutva. This has become the leitmotif of every BJP election campaign, so there is no point in whining on about the dangers and hatred this sort of campaigning unleashes. It is something we have all learned to accept. For me it was the deliberate attempt to link the Bajrang Dal to Bajrang Bali that was both dishonest and disgusting.
In this column last week, I pointed out that the Congress Party’s manifesto was stupid to put the Bajrang Dal in the same bracket as the jihadi Popular Front of India (PFI). This meant only that the bracketing was invalid because the Bajrang Dal is not an international terrorist organisation in the way that the PFI is. But the Bajrang Dal is filled with criminals who have been convicted of rape, murder, and hatemongering. So, for senior BJP leaders to link this outfit to one of the most beloved and revered Hindu gods was wrong and I am happy that the attempt misfired. The deliberate targeting of Muslims by endless references to hijab, halal and Tipu Sultan was also a mistake and that misfired as well.
There is another message for the BJP from Karnataka. In a state election when you make the Prime Minister your main campaigner and send him off on endless roadshows in convoys of SUVs decked with marigold petals you take a serious risk. If the Prime Minister is the main candidate, then he will be personally blamed when defeat comes instead of victory. Early in the campaign I began to believe that the BJP was likely to lose Karnataka and I based this on the speeches of the BJP’s senior leaders. The speeches they made were almost exactly the speeches that were made in the West Bengal election, and we know that did not turn out well. So, it might be a good idea for the BJP’s senior leaders to stop saying ad nauseum that they are certain of a full majority because they have ‘never seen such crowds, never seen so much love.’ They should remember that it is easy to gather crowds at election time but those who come are not necessarily going to vote for you.
In Karnataka the BJP ran a terrible government. Corruption was at such high levels that builders contracted to build government projects went public months ago to admit on camera that they were being forced to pay forty percent of their contracts to officials. Alarm bells should have gone off and action should have been taken against the corrupt officials. This did not happen. Instead, when the election campaign began, BJP leaders made the stupid mistake of saying that in Congress times it was 85% of the money that was stolen. This was a reference to a speech made by Rajiv Gandhi, nearly forty years ago, when he admitted with admirable honesty that his government’s welfare schemes were leaking so badly that only fifteen paise of a rupee reached beneficiaries. I happened to be at that public meeting and remember being impressed with his honesty.
It is true that Winston Churchill once said that the best argument against democracy was a five-minute conversation with the average voter. This is no longer true. The average voter has changed and understands well why he should or should not vote for a particular candidate. In this he seems to have got way ahead of not just politicians but the media. Before sitting down to write this piece I spent more than five hours switching news channels to find some clear analysis of what the real issues were in Karnataka and finally got fed up with hearing what the Lingayat community was planning to do and what the Vokaliga community would do. In all the hours that I watched all I heard was analysis of caste equations. Is caste really all that matters in a state that has a literacy rate that is over 75%? It seems hard to believe.
The results from Karnataka have cheered me up because those who make up the higher echelons of the electoral juggernaut that the BJP has become since it became Modi’s party will be forced to introspect.
The Prime Minister needs to ask himself if it is wise to spend weeks and months on the campaign trail. When he demotes himself to the status of a regional satrap, it reduces him to being one and this is surely not something he wants. His more ardent supporters and his spokesmen insist that it is only the ‘Modi magic’ that will win them elections, and this is why he campaigns so tirelessly.
In Karnataka he campaigned more relentlessly than he has in almost any other state election and the ‘magic’ did not work. This is probably because even magic has its limitations.
Meanwhile, congratulations to the voters of Karnataka for stopping the BJP juggernaut. And we must hope that the Congress Party will now put its best foot forward and give this state an efficient, caring and uncorrupt government this time.