A long time ago, the leaders of the Congress party would swear by principles and lead an exemplary public life. That was the time when leaders like Lal Bahadur Shastri would resign as Union Railway Minister owning moral responsibility for a train accident. Over the decades, the party lowered the standards and went about misusing power, including dismissal of legitimate state governments, declaring emergency and compromising on reforms to remain in power. After its hegemony began to wane, it forged opportunist alliances and rode roughshod over the conventions and principled politics.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and its earlier avatars, also did not compromise on principles for long. Former deputy prime minister Lal Krishna Advani tendered his resignation after allegations were levelled against him. Former prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, likewise, resigned rather than engage in any horse trading when he could not muster enough support to run the government.
The proliferation of smaller and regional parties has further eroded the high moral standards as these parties changed sides virtually at the flip of a coin. The culture of Aya Ram and Gaya Ram further vitiated the political scenario and now few eyebrows are raised if various political parties indulge in manoeuvring and setting up alliances which appeared impossible at one stage.
The political uncertainty caused by the unclear mandate emerging from the recent Karnataka Assembly elections reflects the changing times. We now have the strange, and perhaps unparalleled, spectacle of a party leading the government even though it emerged as the third largest party. The Janata Dal (S), led by HD Kumaraswamy, has earlier vowed not to take support from either the Congress and the BJP. He had declared in TV interviews that he and his party would rather sit in the opposition than to have any alliance with the two national parties.
All his protests went for a toss when the Congress offered its unconditional support just to keep the BJP at bay. He suddenly found so many virtues in the Congress and personally went to the UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and the Congress president Rahul Gandhi to invite them to his swearing in ceremony. The line-up of diverse political leaders and sworn rivals like Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav and Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayawati, or those from across the political spectrum like West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, stood united with just one ambition — to prevent the BJP led by prime minister Narendra Modi from retaining power in the next year’s general elections. A perfect example of enemy’s enemy is a friend.
The Modi-Amit Shah combine deserves all credit for its winning streak and registering victories, barring the exception in Punjab, and establishing BJP led governments in over 20 of the 29 states. However, in the process, it too compromised on principles and raked up controversial and unnecessary issues. In Karnataka, for instance, it projected BS Yeddyurappa as its chief ministerial candidate even though he was asked to quit following corruption charges in the previous BJP government that he led. The party also did not have any qualms about taking support of the infamous Reddy brothers who are known to head the ‘mining mafia’ in the state.
After failing to get the majority by merely a handful of seats, the party adopted unholy means to grab power. In this regard the role of the NDA appointed governor rightly came under criticism. He not only acted in haste in inviting Yediyurappa but gave him a fortnight to prove majority. It was evidently meant to provide an opportunity to him to indulge in horse trading as there was no way he could have proved his majority. Credit must also go to the Supreme Court which asked Yeddyurappa to prove majority within 24 hours. With the Congress wiser from its experiences in Goa, Manipur and Meghalaya, its leaders acted with alacrity to prevent any poaching of their MLAs by the BJP.
Thus sworn rivals, the Congress and the JDS, joined hands to form the government with the larger party offering unconditional support to the smaller party to keep the BJP at bay. In the process all political parties, including the BJP and the Congress, have lost credibility.
The broader political picture that has emerged from Karnataka elections is that while the BJP continues to dominate, it is losing its sheen. After a virtual bull run across the country, except the South, it got stuck at the gateway of southern India. The party shall have to rethink its strategy and possibly lean over some of the regional parties to get their support.
The photo op at the swearing in ceremony of Kumaraswamy, with top leaders from an array of parties (including sworn political adversaries), reflected a renewal of spirit to take on the Modi-Shah juggernaut. It was after long time that one could see smiles on the faces of opposition leaders. The get-together at the event certainly signalled that most of these parties were ready to join hands to contest the next general elections.
For the Modi government, which just completed four years and entered the last year of its rule, this is not good news. Even before the Karnataka verdict, the party had suffered setbacks in a series of Lok Sabha by-elections in Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh – where it is the ruling party — besides other states.
By now it is almost clear that the NDA is unlikely to retain its strength in the next Lok Sabha although it remains a strong contender to emerge as the single largest party. In such a scenario it shall have to work with coalition partners and give them their due. It is well known that some of its existing coalition partners are feeling uneasy. The TDP has already moved out, the Shiv Sena has been threatening to do so and the Shiromani Akali Dal has made its annoyance public. Yet, the Modi-Shah team has the capability of turning the tables. It has launched a massive advertisement campaign with the slogan : Desh ka badhta jaata vishwas…… Saaf niyat, Sahi vikas. At present, Shah is having long discussions with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), from where it draws it cadres, to evolve the party’s strategy during the run-up to the next general elections. Although the RSS leadership shall not like it, the party would do well to tone down its Hindutva campaign.
For the Congress and the numerous other parties lined up on the stage in Bengaluru, it would be a fatal mistake if the thinking is that opposition to BJP or Modi as prime minister could ensure them deliverance. Firstly, the diverse parties shall find it difficult to sort out their own differences and the very survival of some of these parties could be at stake. Secondly, a negative campaign against Modi government is unlikely to yield good results for them.
If these parties have to challenge the BJP, these shall have to prepare a joint manifesto highlighting the developmental agenda. There is a general sense of unease among the people due to unfulfilled promises held out before the elections. Issues of unemployment, better deal for farmers, foreign direct investment and better infrastructure would emerge as the major issues. The NDA government has already started publicising its achievements while the Congress and other opposition parties are yet to utter a word on their vision for the future. One can only hope that the political rivals would refrain from stoking communal fires during the run up to the elections.