Never was a Karnataka election more important to India than this one. Never was a Karnataka election more ruthlessly fought than this one. All bets are off. All masks are off. All decencies associated with democracy are out. The one and only objective is: Win by hook or by crook, mostly by crook because that’s easier.
Such is the viciousness of the fight that victory can become defeat and vice versa. The Congress, for example, may get more votes than others, yet the BJP may form the government. Two factors support this possibility. First, the BJP is in power in Delhi and has no qualms about using that power to its partisan advantage. Income Tax raids meant to scare opponents have already taken place and the CBI has progressively closed its cases against the famously infamous Reddy brothers, the principal support base for the BJP’s finances and muscle power in the state. Referring to the Reddys’ mining business, the then Lokayukta Santosh Hegde said exports took place although “there was no mining permit, no transportation permit, no export permit”. And now, no case.
The second factor that can make a mockery of the election is the phenomenon of also-ran parties in India; they cannot get anywhere near power on their own, but can tilt the balance in a tight contest. The most notorious example of this one-man subterfuge is the Kerala Congress, a small outfit with a small Christian following. Its patriarch, KM Mani, played the two-timing game so cleverly that he remained a Cabinet minister in changing permutations and combinations.
A cheaper version of the KM Mani brand of opportunism was devised, also in Kerala, by toddy king-turned-politician Vellapally Natesan. He projected his son Tushar as the great hope of tomorrow. This completely unknown man formed an alliance with the BJP and floated rumours that he was going to be a Rajya Sabha MP, or a Cabinet minister, or chairman of this corporation or that. The man’s hunger for a highfalutin position was pathetic to watch, especially since Amit Shah just kept him waiting, despite Papa Natesan’s warnings.
In Karnataka, though, opportunistic politics has a better chance because HD Deve Gowda’s JD(S) is in the buy-and-sell market. There isn’t a hope in hell for the JD(S) to get a majority on its own. But the few seats it wins can make a difference if the Congress and BJP scores are close. One thing that is certain about JD(S) is that it will embrace anybody for power. Don’t believe Deve Gowda’s threat to disown his son Kumaraswamy if any tie-up with the BJP takes place. He said similar things in 2006, yet Kumaraswamy tied up with the BJP and ascended the throne. Father was delighted.
If anything is certain about this election, it is that the Gowdas will keep all options open till the final hour. That’s because HD Deve Gowda is the greatest dynastic politician in India, well above the Gandhis. The balance sheet of his reign as Karnataka’s chief minister and India’s first accidental prime minister had nothing to show for it—except for the light it shone on HD Kumaraswamy, HD Revanna, HD Ramesh, HD Anasuya, HD Shailaja, HD Balakrishna Gowda, some HD wives and children.
Beyond two sons, two grandsons are also being groomed. What we see now is a meeting of the cynical with the crafty. The Gowda chief knows that the BJP is so desperate for power that it will agree to make Kumaraswamy chief minister. The BJP knows that the Gowdas are so desperate for power that they will accept its diktats. Watch out for the ultimate exercise in expediency. The only saving grace is that if the Gowda ambition becomes too self-centred, a section of the JD(S) may revolt.
Meanwhile, the takeaways of this election are finding their way into the history books. In Karnataka, unlike in other states, the BJP faces a strong opponent. The Congress has an array of time-tested leaders, while Siddaramaiah, stronger and more assertive of late, pits himself against Modi with aplomb.
Example: When Modi mocked him for his 2+1 formula (contesting from two seats with son contesting from another), Siddaramaiah retorted by referring to (a) Modi contesting from Vadodara and Varanasi and (b) Modi’s own 2+1 formula (two Reddys and one Yeddy).
Memorable, too, was a Hindutva extremist’s shout from coastal Karnataka: “This election is not about water and roads; it is about Hindus and Muslims.” Sam Pitroda brought in sobriety with the comment, “This election is not about Karnataka; it is about the future of India”. Amen.