Looking at Karnataka politics today, who would think this was the State that floated the concept of “value-based politics”?

No sensible Kannadiga with an ounce of decency left in her will want to make sense of the ongoing political disgrace in the State. There are better things to do in life—in World Cup season—than to spend time analysing a shameless molestation of democracy by the very people empowered to protect it.

But there are three milestones, one from the 19th century and two from the 20th century, that should help us understand Karnataka’s shocking decline in the 21st century.

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The first milestone reads ‘1881’.

This brazen distortion of democracy by elected representatives and their political parties in 2019 is happening in the very land where the seeds of India’s democracy were first sown 138 years ago.

In August 1881, under Chamaraja Wadiyar X, the then Dewan of Mysore, C.V. Rangacharlu, constituted the country’s first ‘Praja Prathinidhi Sabha’, an elected council that was a precursor to the modern-day legislative assembly. Its objective was to give voice to the people.

That the Congress and JDS MLAs, egged on by their counterparts in the BJP and puppeteered by unseen hands in Delhi, are so openly squandering the trust and faith of voters in their constituencies to represent them in the Vidhana Sabha, is an inversion of the founding principles of the ‘Praja Prathinidhi Sabha’.

The MLAs will claim that they are doing this to protect the voters’ interests but who in his right senses will believe such a claim looking at their conduct?

The only excuse that can be offered today is that this is not happening for the first time. Karnataka’s MLAs established themselves as a purchasable commodity of doubtful integrity in 1983 when C. Byre Gowda of the Janata Party alleged that Veerappa Moily had offered him a bribe of Rs 2 lakh to defect to the Congress. He produced an audio tape, which he had secretly recorded, to show a purported conversation with Moily. Moily was later exonerated by a judicial commission which found gaping holes in many of Gowda’s claims. But from there to here has been an easy slide.

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The second milestone reads ‘1984’.

Today’s disgusting drama that makes a mockery of the electoral process stands in complete contradiction to Karnataka’s stellar role in a “Struggle for Restoration of Democracy” 35 years ago.

In August 1984, when Indira Gandhi was prime minister, the Telugu Desam Party government of N.T.Rama Rao was summarily dismissed in Andhra Pradesh by a pliant governor acting at the behest of Congress party bosses in Delhi.

The patently unjust dismissal of NTR, despite TDP commanding a majority in the 294-seat AP assembly, evoked strong reactions from other regional and national parties. It also outraged the media.

As the Congress and its agents sought to woo TDP MLAs, NTR and his son-in-law N. Chandrababu Naidu moved them to Karnataka, as “state guests” of the then chief minister, Ramakrishna Hegde. One lot of MLAs were holed up in Nandi Hills, and another lot in Mysore.

It was one of the earliest recorded instances of “resort politics”. But, in 2019, the state is no more a safe refuge for its own legislators. And, in a stunning reversal of roles, Congress is trying to protect its flock from the BJP, which back in 1984 was in the opposite camp.

Looking at the engineered resignations and defections of MLAs, hearing the rumours of vast amounts of money changing hands, and listening to their schoolboy explanations for switching loyalties, it is difficult to believe that this was the very state which, under Ramakrishna Hegde, gave the country the concept of “value-based politics” in the 1980s. Values have vanished from politicians in Karnataka, which pioneered Panchayat Raj reforms.

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The third and final signpost reads “1999”.

The election of Sonia Gandhi from the “Republic of Bellary” in 1999 opened up the faultlines in Karnataka politics. Her BJP opponent was Sushma Swaraj. Her campaign was financed by the Reddy Brothers, using humongous amounts of mud-soiled money dredged from the iron ore mines. The innocent-sounding ‘Operation Kamala’—an insidious method to get newly elected MLAs to resign and contest from the BJP—made its entry into the lexicon thanks to them.

Although Sushma Swaraj washed her hands off them, the imprint of the Reddy Brothers was seen even as recently as the 2018 assembly elections, when Janardhan Reddy openly campaigned for BJP candidates.

The fact that Congress and JDS MLAs are posing for photographs before a BJP-installed governor, flying off in planes owned by a BJP MP, accompanied by B.S. Yeddyurappa’s aide shows that while the Reddy Brothers may have visibly withdrawn from the scene, their trademark tactics have gained strong roots in the BJP.

But unlike its previous crude attempts to dislodge the government, and notwithstanding the inorganic coalition that holds it together howsoever tenuously, the latest attempt contains the brahmastra of the modern BJP: plausible deniability.

In other words, while it may be difficult to pin down the crisis to it in a court of law, its footprint is all over the place so much so that even amateur forensic experts will have little difficulty in pointing out who is behind it.

Somewhere in the midst of the three milestones of 1881, 1984 and 1999 are the clues that provide the answer to the troubling corrosion of Karnataka politics: the disappearance of values, the criminalisation of politics, and the complete collapse of ideology.

Any wonder, more than half the 224 MLAs are crorepatis?

“If, in the aftermath of this unjust act, the political situation in the state becomes even more murky, it is the Centre and those who have gone along with it in this political destabilisation game who must bear the responsibility,” was a sentence in an editorial in The Hindu 35 years ago when TDP MLAs were in Karnataka.

You could repeat the same words today as Karnataka looks at the bottom of the barrel.

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A translated version of this piece appears in today’s Praja Vani.