A momentary respite in the battle for the soul of Karnataka: a decent, diverse, composite, liberal, progressive state

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Like in a Tom & Jerry cartoon film, Kannadigas, fleeing their pursuers, ran furiously across the cliff—and tipped over. But, unlike in the hands of animators, where the cat defies gravity and scurries back to safer ground, Karnataka decided to stand at the edge and peer at what looked like a pot of gold, in the deep.

In the end, Kannadigas, renowned for their contentment, decided to step back and forgo the fortune.  

Without beating round the bush, the 2018 Karnataka election, in its timing and context, was a battle for the soul of a diverse, liberal and progressive state, after the scam-and-scandal filled experience with a retrograde BJP 10 years ago, which saw three chief ministers and a rout in 2013, when it came third after JDS. 

That some of our own heard and heeded the nursery-school slogan “Sarkara Badalisi” (Kannada for ‘Chalo Paltai’) despite that was baffling.

Because you expected better of your kinsmen, but also because, by most accounts, the Congress under Siddaramaiah appeared to have run a stable, peaceful regime that ticked all the right boxes.   

Still, to see 36% press the lotus on their EVMs (as opposed to 31% nationally) was saddening, revealing, disturbing. 

# Kannadigas, you thought, schooled in the liberalism of their writers, poets and reformers, would see through the thuggish harangue built on anger, vengeance and resentment: that Hindus were in danger; that Hindus were somehow being deprived of something that was rightfully theirs; that Hindus were the “victims”.

# Kannadigas, you thought, bred in the cradle of Panchayati Raj, would oppose the centralised, top-down, unitary view of India. That local issues, local candidates, local development mattered more than the Hindi-Hindu-Hindutva poison the BJP-RSS machinery was letting into the system. 

# Karnataka, the country’s second most arid state, you thought, would respond to the tragedy of demonetisation that harmed lives and livelihood. That the state which pioneered social reforms would empathise with Dalits whose constitutional rights were being lynched, along with Muslims condemned to second-class citizenship. 

# Karnataka, the “No.1 state”, you thought, would react against “North Indian imports” lecturing them on “development”; that they would not fall for the corruption claptrap of a party half of whose cabinet was in jail in 2008, which had outsourced it return to the Reddy Brothers and their sancho panza, B. Sriramulu in 2018.   

Probably they did do all that, which is why 38.2% went for the Congress, two per cent more than in 2013.

Which is also why perhaps, unlike in other states, where the North Indian media declares a BJP victory the moment the election schedule is leaked, there was no sense of what was going on in Karnataka despite a myriad opinion polls, exit polls and embedded reports. In fact, the victor wasn’t known even after counting ended on May 15.

Still, in the “national” perception, the BJP’s final tally of 104—a 150% jump over its previous score of 40—mocked the received wisdom: that there was no “Modi wave”; that there was no “anti-incumbency” against Siddaramaiah; that the social welfare schemes would earn Congress the undying gratitude of voters.

Certificates were being issued furiously to the latter-day murder-accused “Chanakya”. 

In reality, the BJP got seven lakh fewer votes than the Congress 1.38 crore votes. BJP candidates lost their deposits in 40 out of the 222 seats. NOTA got more votes than BJP candidates in 12 more. But the bluff, bluster and bombast carried the day, every night at 9 pm, till this evening.

Projecting a backward-looking PM like an evangelist in 21 cities—“Modi, Modi, Modi”—the repetition of lies, abuse and innuendoes; the suicidal assault on the dignity of his own office; and frenzied chants of ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ reopened the “Gateway to the South” once again. 

But for exactly 55 hours.

There is nearly nothing positive that can be said about the Congress alliance with Janata Dal (Secular). They did not go to the voters together. They were at each other’s throats all the time. Rahul Gandhi called Kumaraswamy’s party the “B” team of the BJP, that the “S” in its name stood for ‘sangh parivar’.

In fact, in the 38 seats the JDS won, it beat the Congress candidate in 29; the BJP in 9.

But, with 2019 looming over the horizon, this is not a moment to quibble. At least till old man Deve Gowda is around, JDS has something called ideology to redeem its ugly history of ushering the BJP in to power in the state. If they had stood together, they would have got 156 assembly seats. If they stand together, they can get 22 LS seats.

Karnataka has sent a signal that Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and the rest of India will hear.

The BJP’s self-proclaimed “election machinery” stands horribly exposed, more so for its contempt of the Constitution of India. For bringing disgrace to the office of the Governor. For misusing official machinery. For violating its own transgressions of the law in other states. For doing everything to cling on to power.

The tiresome self-righteousness and sanctimony of the Tongue Parivar, of being the “party with a difference”, sounds like a cruel joke this evening. The voices of five of its denizens offering humongous amounts of money to switch makes for pleasant hearing.