Karnataka elections mark the beginning of a new trend in politics
The principles of democracy will be flagrantly violated if such practices continue.
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Now that the dust has settled on the Karnataka Assembly elections and BS Yeddyurappa has gone ahead with resignation in absence of a majority, neither natural nor manufactured, we need to look at the bigger picture.
It was indeed a surprising scenario — the BJP got more seats but not majority, the Congress got more votes but less seats, the JD(S) got the least number of seats but the support of the Congress to form the government.
The Congress-JDS combine with 116 MLAs, five more than majority, and with two independent MLAs support, is in a position to form the government, though no one can say anything about stability at the moment. Stability is an issue of the future, numbers make the government in the present.
United we stand: Congress-JD(S) lawmakers protest against BS Yeddyurappa's swearing-in as CM, in Bangalore on May 17. [Credit: Reuters photo]
In the given context, Yeddyurappa had the only option to resign. And since he failed and the Supreme Court virtually censured the governor by bringing the 15-day window to just 24 hours, in fitness of things, the Gujarat governor — a long-term RSS man and a Modi loyalist who quit his seat once to enable the then first time CM Narendra Modi to contest his maiden election in 2001 — should resign as governor.
Uniformity in principles in case of hung legislatures
The Supreme Court ruling in the SR Bommai case in case of hung legislatures notes that the governor should call: (A) Leader of the pre- or post-poll combination which is most likely to provide a stable government; if not, then (B) Leader of the single largest party; if not/fails, then (C) in a case of genuine breakdown of constitutional machinery, a new election.
Based on this, in Goa, Manipur and Meghalaya recently, the governors called the leader of the largest post-poll combination of parties, and not the leader of the largest single party to form government.
So, why did we see a different scenario in case of Karnataka this time?
India needs to seriously debate on whether to have separate weightage for seats and vote-shares as in many democracies, and whether to continue with ambiguity in powers vested in governors.
Only united Opposition can combat BJP
The results show that in spite of higher vote share (38 per cent), the Congress could not win more seats than the BJP (36 per cent), and if the Opposition votes of the Congress, the JDS and the BSP are added, they have a sweeping victory in Karnataka with a whopping 58 per cent, as noted rightly by the West Bengal chief minister, Mamata Banerjee.
Hence, politics in every state in future will take a bipolar character: The BJP and non-BJP parties, similar to what it was a decade ago — Congress and non-Congress parties.
It is also significant to note that Congress CM Siddaramaiah had reposed faith in his AHINDA formula of uniting Muslims, Dalits and tribals who together account for 39 per cent of the electorate. But the combination seems to have got split between the Congress and the JD(S)-BSP combine as their constituencies are similar. Thus, the Congress lost out on major mass vote counts.
However, the failure of BJP in its attempt to manufacture majority in Karnataka this time would now lead to an Opposition unity as it is clear that pre-poll unity of all non-BJP forces is the only route to combat the BJP, as was the case when all anti-Indira forces united to hand down a befitting defeat to Indira Congress after the Emergency.
Corruption is the new normal; winnability counts
The success of the BJP in this context also proves that corruption was a non-issue in the polls since the CM face Yeddyurappa had to resign last time on corruption charges, but was still given leadership, and the mining scam tainted Reddy brothers and friends of Bellary had been given eight seats by the BJP.
According to the Association of Democratic Rights, 83 out of 224 BJP candidates, or 37 per cent, have criminal cases, including murder and rape, against them. While the Congress has 59 (27 per cent) out of 220 candidates with criminal cases pending against them, Janata Dal (Secular) has 41 (21 per cent) out of 199 candidates.
However, as many as 208 (93 per cent) BJP candidates have assets worth more than Rs 1 crore, while 207 (94 per cent) Congress candidates declared themselves as crorepatis. A massive 154 (77 per cent) of the 199 candidates from Janata Dal (Secular) and 199 (18 per cent) of the 1,090 independents have declared assets worth over Rs 1 crore.
But for all major parties winnability is the only consideration, whether based on identity considerations or resources they command, to make an impact on ground during electioneering, and not corruption or wealth amassed.
Populism and regionalism
Siddaramaiah first tried the J Jayalalithaa (Tamil Nadu) way of populism by bringing in succour for the BPL families, through guaranteed cheap rice and pulses, and low-priced cooked food. But this did not cut much ice with a large section of the poor electorate. He then ran a campaign based on Bihari versus Bahari model of Nitish Kumar of Bihar, but failed. He tried to capitalise on slogans like "BJP is a north Indian party" or "affluent south Indian states are funding regressive north Indian states" after this issue came up in the last Finance Commission meeting. From playing the Lingayat card, caste vote banks, rooting for separate state flag, and leading a tirade against Hindi, the former CM tried all tricks and failed.
His posturing did not go down well with the middle class either. Hence, substantive social security measures in the form of a better public education and healthcare (as being done in Delhi state), coupled with a national perspective to politics which is not antithetic to local interests, alone can carry the poor and the middle class together.
Big money, big data, Whatsapp for polarisation
To simplify the big data approach, if a party (or a candidate) has a good idea of the political views and likes/dislikes of as many voters as possible, it can use this information to fine-tune its own outreach to voters and influence their votes, and a new ploy like this can indeed decide the outcome when elections are won and lost over a margin of a few votes.
All parties used this. This brings us to the next attack on the gullible voter: funds. This was arguably also the costliest election of its kind in India so far. Money and muscle power are now replaced by money and data power.
Elections in India are now fought and won on WhatsApp. Debates and rallies give cues to be posted on WhatsApp with a deadly concoction of factoids and lies. In this high profile election, seen as a preview of India's national election next year, the country's two major political parties noted that they each amassed more than 20,000 WhatsApp groups, thereby claiming they could reach more than 1.5 million loyalists in minutes.
But many of those messages have been false and inflammatory, twisting the words of political opponents and ratcheting up tensions between Hindu nationalists and the country's Muslim minority. WhatsApp as a personalised amplification tool is expected to be massively used in future in electoral battles, and if unchecked can wreak havoc.
Concerns in the long run
Karnataka marks the beginning of a new trend in politics — armed with all the relevant information about the voters, technical wizkids were out to manipulate their behaviour. Post-truth had a field day. Pushed out of the agenda were all the issues that mattered to the citizens —corruption, welfare measures, peace, infrastructure, farmers' woes, etc.
Democracy in its content may remain intact, but will be flagrantly violated in spirit if these trends continue.