The BJP’s luck must be at its zenith, otherwise the Congress cannot be gripped by such an unstoppable death wish. Even reigning Congress chieftains seem to be working for the party’s demolition. When Kerala’s then Industry Minister Kunhalikutty promoted patently corrupt projects in the last days of the government’s term, Chief Minister Chandy must have known that he was signing his government’s death warrant. Karnataka, the only other Congress state in the south, is repeating the same story. Chief Minister Siddaramaiah reshuffled his cabinet in such a way that the defeat of the Congress in the next state election is assured. Why doesn’t Rahul Gandhi keep his men in line? Well, in Kerala, his men defied him and he had to take it lying down. In Karnataka... sorry, he is on holiday abroad, place and duration top secrets.
With the Congress so helpful, the BJP makes public relations blunders one after another and yet remains on top of the heap. It appointed a series of half-baked fellow travellers to head some of the country’s hallowed institutions; it kept quiet when independent thinking was ridiculed and, not infrequently, suppressed violently; it put up unworthy characters to make incendiary calls like “Muslim-mukt Bharat”.
In normal times, people propagating such petty bigotry would have had to face the law of the land. Not only do BJP jingoists float above it all; the party increases its vote share in proportion to the decline and fall of other parties, the latest example of the effectiveness of the TINA principle (There Is No Alternative). The incompetence of the Congress gives the principle its biggest boost for the Congress is the only other party with a national footprint.
The way the Congress rules itself out as an alternative suggests that its decisions are made by BJP’s undercover agents. How else can one explain Kamal Nath being made the Congress’s man in charge of Punjab elections? One of the smartest political operators in India, Nath was believed to be a lead player in the Congress-sponsored anti-Sikh riots following Indira Gandhi’s assassination. Putting such a man in charge of soliciting Sikh votes in Punjab says something about how things are in the Congress. Nath’s subsequent withdrawal is unlikely to undo the damage.
The damage done in Karnataka is worse because, after Karnataka too is lost, the Congress will be faceless in a region that had stood by it in its worst moments. Kerala alone voted for the Congress in the post-Emergency election. After Indira Gandhi was defeated in her home constituency of Rae Bareli in 1977, it was Chikmagalur in Karnataka that sent her to Parliament in a byelection the next year.
Chief Minister Siddaramaiah had been undermining the Congress steadily, by giving the impression that he never applied his mind to the issues that cried out for attention, that he never really cared. His image had become so negative that an alert high command would have gracefully kicked him upstairs and put a more pro-active leader in the chief minister’s chair.
What the high command did instead was to let him appoint a virtually new cabinet. True, the 14 ministers who were dropped deserved to be dropped. Unfortunately, the 13 new ministers who were appointed did not deserve to be appointed either. There was no logic, either caste-wise or age-wise, in the reshuffle. There was no “correction” either. Rahul Gandhi had asked Siddaramaiah when he became chief minister back in 2013 to keep two “senior” Congressmen out of the cabinet because of their long record of corruption. They were kept out initially. But seasoned manipulators in Delhi saw that Rahul Gandhi’s diktat was quietly sidelined and the two tainted men taken into the cabinet. They are still there, still tainted.
One of them playing the Vokkaliga card may be overtaken by another who has successfully played the Lingayat card. The old war horse B S Yeddyurappa is all set to return to the chair which he had to leave in disgrace in 2011. Appropriate notices were given by a little black bird that perched on the bonnet of Siddaramaiah’s new SUV and would not budge despite proddings by law enforcers. The chief minister must have sensed a BJP manoeuvre. He promptly acquired another new SUV. But
The black bird scare
Floats in the air