MATHIHALLI MADAN MOHAN writes from Hubli: Politics does not always pay. This perhaps is the bitter lesson that the political parties have learnt in the just-concluded panchayat elections.
All three parties have all lost more than gained from the polls. In fact, there is hardly any gain for any of the three.
The BJP, Congress and the JDS were all equally invested in the undue hype raised over the polls.
Though the elections to the second and third tiers of the three-tier panchayat system hardly have any bearing on the continuance or otherwise of the party in power, it was portrayed as if the panchayat poll would be the decider.
It was the Congress and the JDS which set the ball rolling. Both launched a vitriolic campaign baying for the head of the scam-tainted B.S. Yediyurappa government. The voters, they maintained, would “surely teach” a lesson to the BJP government.
On the other hand, Yediyurappa once again exhibited his propensity for breast-beating and asserted that the voters would give a fitting reply to his critics. He staked the performanance of his government for seeking a renewed mandate from the rural voters.
The campaign was shrill to the core.
The Congress, which had got a new state president a couple of months earlier, roped in the high flying national leader Ghulam Nabi Azad. The father and son team of the JDS’ “national” leadership, M/s Deve Gowda and H.D. Kumaraswarmy, bore the brunt for their party.
And for the BJP, the chief minister stomped the districts in a bid to woo the voters. There was nothing unusual in the blandishments offered to the voters, since it has become an integral part of present-day canvassing.
What ultimately happened came as an anticlimax to the hype raised.
There was no improvement at all for the three parties; each of them had their own share of setbacks.
The expectations of the political parties that the voters would either “teach a lesson” or give “suitable reply” was totally belied. The political parties today are happier over the discomfiture of the other parties than about their own share of humiliation.
What happened was that rural voters ignored both and went in their own nonchalant way in expressing their opinion. This was something to what they had done in 2008 election. They preferred BJP but held back their hand to deny the half way mark both in terms of the control of the ZPs and TPs, and also in number of seats won and kept the two others far behind.
Of the 30 zilla panchayats, the BJP gained control of 12, four each went to Congress and handed down fractured verdict in the remaining ten. In the 178 taluk panchayats also, the same trend emerged. Of the 176 taluk panchayats, BJP gained could gain control of 68, Congress 31, the BJP 29; instability stares at 48 remaining taluk panchayats.
BJP as the party in power was expected to put up a good show to obtain control over the majority of the ZPs and TPs, going by the track record of elections held previously.
This did not happen.
It was four short of the halfway mark in the ZPs and 20 short of the half way mark in the TPs. Its only consolation was that as against one ZP it had controlled in 2005, it has captured 12 now. In terms of seats, as against 145 it had bagged last time, its tally has gone up to 441 in the ZPs.
Whatever brave face its leaders may put up, the fact that the party had to huff and puff in the chief minister’s home-district of Shimoga and the Reddy brothers’ bastion of Bellary cannot be hidden at all.
It had also to live with the humiliation of not being able to open the account in two districts of Mandya and Ramnagar.
As far as the Congress is concerned, the elections have shown that the party has been slowly losing its hold in the rural areas. While the BJP has been foraying into the Congress pockets of northern Karnataka, the JDS has been doing the same in the old Mysore areas.
The number of Congress-controlled ZPs has come down from 22 to 4 and the number of seats has come down from 493 to 353. The party has to live with the mortification that in the home district of the state president, G. Parameshwara, it has been drubbed very badly.
While the JDS is happy that it is on a par with the national party like Congress in the number of ZPs won, the fact cannot be hidden that its influence remains confined to a few pockets of the vokkaliga-dominated old Mysore districts including the home district of Deve Gowda, Hassan.
Compared to 2005, the party has suffered erosion of seats, which has come down from 273 to 180. The party has not been able to win a single seat in eight districts.
If the political parties had addressed the core issues bothering the minds of the rural voters, instead of haranguing them about their own plans, they could have better captured the imagination of the rural voters.
The parties went about their political campaign forgetting the fact that the smaller the constitutuencies, the lesser has been the impact of the politics and what matters in these small territorial constituencies is the personal standing of the candidates and the interplay of caste.
As a matter of fact, none of the parties referred to the empowerment of the panchayat raj institutions and how they would improve the delivery system in reaching the benefits to the people or strengthening the financial base of these institutions, which are reeling under the impact of a centralized administrative system in the name of decentralisation.