What the Karnataka Election is really all about

The way most of us see it, it’s all pretty straight forward. A horse race, where the better-bred, better-fed stud, owned by the right owner with the right pedigree, noses past the finishing line and ends up in the Vidhana Soudha stable, grazing the green pastures till the next race.

But is an election such a simple, cynical zero-sum game? Or is there more to it?

Dr Narendar Pani, 54, has watched the polscape of his mother land for long—as a theatre activist (Samudaya), as an editor (Economic Times), as an economist, as a writer (The Last Post; Crow on the Steeple), and now as a scholar (National Institute for Advanced Studies).

Pani sat down with Deepak Thimaya on “Time to Talk”, the English interview programme on Udaya Varthegalu on Thursday night to explain what the Assembly elections mean for the State, not just for 2008 but long term:

# It’s an election which seeks to reestablish the nature of Karnataka elections. Because our politics is not cadre-based, Karnataka elections have been processes which give clear verdicts. Last time it wasn’t so sure. This time it is an opportunity to get back to the past.

# As of now, it’s an election for the Congress to lose. Congress has taken all the castes, social groups into it. Others have not taken that attitude. BJP is functioning on the assumption that the Lingayats are the strongest group in the State and they can provide the base for the others to get in. JDS is plumping for fresh blood. BSP is working on the basis that all we need is a core group of Dalits and I can make a deal with other castes.

# Opinion polls are good at predicting the broad trends, they are not good in predicting in specific constituencies…. Delimitation will help smaller groups to find representation.

# Voters in Karnataka have not voted for ideology, not since the time of Devaraj Urs. This election is mostly about interests. You can call it commercialisation, you can call it corruption, you can call it patronage politics.

# Politicians have played a critical role at various points of time. They have got fully immersed in patronage politics, which is a crisis for the State as a whole, for the political economy of Karnataka as a whole. But the ones who can do it are actually doing something. Otherwise you do not win.

# Expectations have become very localised. I don’t worry about globalisation unless it affects me, I don’t worry about policy unless it affects me. That’s not a good thing for the State.

# Suppose there is a villager in Village X in Karnataka. Somebody who belongs to his caste becomes an MLA. He asks him to get him a Janatha house. If the villager gets that house, it is corruption, it is casteism, it is nepotism, it is a lot of things that are wrong in our eyes. As far as I am concerned, it is patronage and the MLA has done his job. What we consider corruption is in many senses things are expected of politicians….

# The problem is not money. The problem is that candidates are choosing to come on their own, almost as if it as a non-party election. All a party does is give a ticket…. They are exercising their influence, be it muscle power or patronage or ability to convince them. But to be fair, they spend time trying to develp that influence. Those that develop it, go to any party that will recognise what they have got…. We tend to underestimate what politics has done for us.

# Elections used to be a lot more fun before the regulations came in. There is a loss of involvement…. The controls on spending may be effective although they have ended the end of an election industry.

# The anti-defection law has resulted in not having people who stand up for their constituency above their party. The legislator should be free to go whichever way he feels.

Video: courtesy Udaya TV