Power disrupts but absolute power disrupts more in coalitions. The very purpose of a leader is to come to power and his political party’s aim is to help him do that by using his or her charisma and acceptability to disseminate ideology. The election war in Karnataka—where the BJP lost but no party won—was a clash of ideologies and personalities. Ultimately ideology lost and personality won; in this it was a personality without an ideology.
The Congress formula was marred in the populist laboratory of opportunistic politics, as its constant experiments in vote engineering diluted its core ideology of egalitarian India. It adapted to include socialism, protectionism, welfare extravagansas, communalism and economic reform to become a smorgasbord of lost ideas. These convolutions were driven by the party’s efforts to combat regionalism and growing nationalism. H D Deve Gowda, the only regional leader to have become an accidental Prime Minister, was no friend of the Congress but ironically is now the paterfamilias of a partnership that includes the very party that sabotaged his premiership in April 1997. Ambition has one father but has many children. Deve Gowda’s son H D Kumaraswamy, who leads his insecure coalition government, has also grown up in the political creche of ambition.
He has confessed that he is at the mercy of his big brother. Even a resolution of the Cabinet crisis does not augur well for the JD(S)-Congress partnership. The Congress had been in power for five years and Kumaraswamy wants to rule for the next five. But there is a numerical interruption in between: 2019. If the state polls were a referendum, the vote is not for the coalition. But it’s not for the BJP either. However, the coalition is likely to be in power until the poll bell tolls next year—the disparate Siamese twins need each other. In case of an inevitable fall, a sympathy vote is always welcome. It suits the BJP just fine, for it is easier to demolish an ineffective and politically internecine administration than a cohesively efficient unit. In Karnataka, the BJP has two targets for 2019, both who are natural enemies than ideological partners.
The Congress is a national party which has become an apology of a regional force, having lost nearly all the states it ruled over in the last four years. But in Karnataka, the BJP’s votes went to the JD(S), while the Congress lost just 3 percent. The party that lost the least formed the government than the one that lost the most. Political arithmetic is a Macbethian witch, which cooks up unpredictable formulae for the future. The JD(S)-Congress coalition is unlikely to continue until it becomes clear which party gets the most number of Lok Sabha seats next year.
The BJP has to realise that at the national level it needs a perception overhaul as a party that cares and not as a party that roars. In the political climate that led up to 2014, when the UPA government’s voice had been reduced to an apologetic whisper, it was Narendra Modi’s leonine roars that shook the country. On May 30, when Indian Oil Corporation Ltd cut petrol prices by one paisa it seemed like a cruel joke played on people. Petroleum prices may be linked to the global rate, but perception drives the bus. Karnataka has a bandwagon with passengers going in different directions but Modi has to bring his party back on the road to power where oratory echoes the daily concerns of the people.