‘The best thing that could happen to Democracy’

RAMYA KRISHNAMURTHY writes from Bangalore: After all the motivated bilge of the pseudo-secularists at churumuri, and the motivated bilge of the pseudo-nationalists, a logical question to ask, as the first ever BJP government gets set to take charge in Karnataka, is: is there a silver lining to all that has happened over the last one month in particular, and in the last three months in general?

Pardon my playing the devil’s advocate: is what has happened in Karnataka, far from being a mockery of democracy, the finest demonstration of our democracy?

And far from becoming the “Bihar of the South“—churumuri‘s disgraceful insult to a once-great State—has Karnataka actually shown the country what true “power of the people” is?

You could, of course, accuse me of being wiser by hindsight. You could accuse me of finding virtue in a den of vice. You could accuse me defending the indefensible. And you could, of course, accuse me of indulging in what is fashionably called “post-facto rationalisation”.

But these easy labels only reflect on those slapping them. They do not enhance or enlarge the debate, they only shut it out.

On the other hand…

On the other hand, I believe there is a valid case to be made for the “Nataka in Karnataka”.

Sure, I too am troubled by our politicians behaving this way; the lies, the doublespeak, the skulduggery, the corruption. I too am troubled by the complete absence of any kind of grand vision for the State. I too am troubled by one family, two districts, and three taluks riding roughshod over the entire State. I too am troubled at the impact such politics has on voter and investor confidence. And I too am troubled by the “transfer of power” being the only operative phrase.

But by framing the debate in such narrow moral and abstract terms, we are not helping democracy; we are cocking a snook at it by expecting it to behave the way we think it should.

For starters, a great deal has been made by churumuri and every other media outlet about this being “power for power’s sake”. Hello! When was it not?! And what particularly is so reprehensible about realpolitik being about power?

We seem to live under the illusion that politics is a clean, zero-sum, altruistic game played by gentlemen in suits. It is not. It is about different groups, different interests, different castes, different regions, etc, vying with each other, aspiring for power, jostling for power, and eventually winning or losing power.

It is this energy that makes democracy dirty but alive and vibrant.

Various different practitioners have employed various tricks to project this power. Ramakrishna Hegde used his cosmopolitanism outlook. S.M. Krishna used his industry-friendly approach. But make no mistake, at the end of the day, it was still about power.

Secondly, we seem very cut up that caste has become such a big factor. Hello! When was it not?! And what particularly is so reprehensible about caste playing such a dominant part when caste is all around us and, for all our prayers otherwise, is becoming even bigger?

Indeed, in the current case, two of the biggest castes in the States—the Vokkaligas and the Lingayats—have been fighting for power. One has had a shot at it; the other is soon going to get it. What’s so wrong about either caste employing all the power at its command to win what eventually is a game of numbers, for a larger slice of the power pie?

Unless of course you belong to some other caste.

Our democracy, our State, is a work in progress. It’s evolving, for good or for bad. But by straitjacketing it and by expecting it to fit our own limited framework, we reveal our own brahminical biases and prejudices—brahminical with a lower case “b”, mind you.

Thirdly, a great deal of the circumspection, especially among the secular elite (as evidenced by U.R. Anantha Murthy and Girish Karnad), seems to be predicated on their reservations over the BJP getting its hands on the levers of power.

In this, our “Jnanpith Jnanis” only reveal their own petty, little biases, and their contempt for the voter who, for whatever reason, reposed his trust in that party.

Who are we—or they—to question why people vote for the BJP? And who are we—or they—to seek to exclude those  who do not vote as they feel they should?

In demonising the knicker lobby, in fearing how it might soil the “secular fabric” of the State, we insult the intelligence of the voter.

As the NDA’s many failures during its regime but chiefly its failure to push its advertised agenda on Article 370 or Uniform Civil Code or even the Haj subsidy shows, nothing can be more sobering for the pseudo-nationalists than a small spell in power.

So, who is to say that the BJP coming to power may not actually be good for the State in the long run, because it will expose them on the Baba Budangiri issue and the various other Hindutva bushfires they have kept burning all this while?

But fourthly, and above all, the reason I believe this powerplay is good for our State and good for our democracy is blindingly simple and numerical.

When Kannadigas and Karnatakans went to the polling booths in 2004, they reposed their faith in nobody in particular. All three major parties got more or less the same number of seats—the BJP 79, the Congress 64, and the JDS 58—in a house of 224.

The media is enamoured with calling such verdicts “fractured”. May I venture to propose that this was a “mature” verdict?

In entrusting no party with a majority to form a government on its own, the people of the State sent out the very clearly message that they trusted none of them. They gave each one a whiff of a chance. They hoped, and I am only guessing here, that they (the parties) would somehow emerge from the tiny holes they have dug themselves in, and work out how to guide the State going forward.

May I venture to suggest that the people have been proved right?

Righter than our analysts. Righter than than our pseudo-secularists. Righter than our pseudo-nationalists.

In any other State, a split verdict like this would have resulted in the usual bout of defections and party hopping. But instead of worrying about whether our State has become a Bihar, we only need to doff our hats at what has happened in the last three-and-a-half years.

First the Congress and JDS have been in power.

Then the JDS and BJP have been in power.

And now the BJP and JDS are going to be in power.

First a Congress chief minister in Dharam Singh. Then a JDS chief minister in H.D. Kumaraswamy. And now a BJP chief minister in B.S. Yediyurappa.

Sure, the smallest of the three parties has had a role in all three formations. But if we can salute Machiavelli, if we can salute P.V. Narasimha Rao, what makes it so difficult for us to salute H.D. Deve Gowda for his cunning and chicanery?

What can be more heart-warming than all the three dominant parties having a shot at power? What can be more heart-warming than all the three parties having had a chief minister of its own? What can be more heart-warming than three CMs of three different castes, three different regions, and three different persuasions ascending the gaddi?

And, this above all, what can be more heart-warming than every single voter of every single age, of every single caste, and of every single region and religion, being told that his vote wasn’t wasted? That his vote counted? That he is a vital cog in this great wheel called democracy?

Of course, this is not the ideal situation. And of course, this is not a scenario that may continue in perpetuity. But democracy, like life, is about optimism, about looking forward, about hoping.

From the embers of the last 42 months, may yet emerge a fire in the belly of our politicians and our parties to propel this State forward in the next 18.