Karnataka's verdict loud and clear
Tactically, the Congress has won the day even though the party has been rejected outright by the people of Karnataka which went to polls for the state legislature. In the process, the Congress has still managed to win 78 seats out of a possible 222 for which elections were conducted. The party high command went into a huddle and instantly decided to provide outside support to Janata Dal (Secular) which has secured mere 38 seats.
Eventually, the Congress avenged its defeat. At the same time, it also turned the tables against the BJP which emerged as the single largest party. In the bargain, it is JD(S) under the leadership of former Prime Minister Deve Gowda which has got an unexpected bonanza.
However, one cannot deny the BJP's success because of the popular verdict. Apparently, it is all because of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his party president Amit Shah, who were instrumental in bringing together the two warring groups, one led by BS Yeddyurappa and the other by B Sriramulu, in the state. The RSS can also feel satisfied that it had its way in selecting the candidates.
This is the first time that the BJP, always associated with the north, crossed the Vindhyas to have a foothold in the south. This is bound to have an impact in Andhra Pradesh if and when it goes to polls, especially after Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu decided to take on the BJP when the Centre refused to give a special status to the state.
Kerala has traditionally been a Communist stronghold while Tamil Nadu is still caught up with the two Dravidian parties, DMK and the AIADMK. Making inroads into the two states will be a difficult proposition for BJP, but the party has already begun its spadework, keeping the future elections in mind. As for Telangana, Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao is fully entrenched now.
Yet, the overall scenario is not conducive to the belief of secular parties. The Congress has realised it more than anybody else. That also sums up the reason for the party's high command sending two veterans—Ghulam Nabi Azad and Ashok Gehlot—to Bengaluru to offer the party's support to HD Kumaraswamy to form the government.
The only possible hurdle in the entire plan, the outgoing Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, was taken on board before the party offered the leadership position to Kumaraswamy. This was in contrast to what happened in Goa, Manipur and Meghalaya where BJP moved swiftly to form the governments with its quick planning. Perhaps, this was something even the BJP would not have dreamt.
True, the governor was supposed to ask the single largest party to form the government and prove its majority on the floor of the house, as he eventually did. But the recent experience suggests a deviation in the norm. For example, the Congress had emerged as the single largest party both in Goa and Manipur, but it was not invited to form the government.
It is beyond any doubt that the JD(S) and the Congress coalition has a clear majority. But it is only a post-poll arrangement which has no sanction. Normally, the pre-poll alliances between political parties are the safer options for governors to trust and ensure formation of a stable government than the post-poll alliance, like the one now between the JD(S) and the Congress. Indeed, this one is intended to stop the BJP from coming to power. Yet, the claims of the coalition over the number of MLAs, which will ultimately count, cannot be denied.
The SR Bommai judgment clearly enunciates that the strength of the parties must be decided on the floor of the house and not at Raj Bhavan. In the present context, the ideal way to go forward should have been to convene the assembly session as early as possible, appoint a pro-tem speaker, administer oath to all the elected members, before asking both the contenders to prove their majority on the floor of the house.
The Congress could have well averted a situation like this if only it had a tie-up with the JD(S) before the elections. Neither the Congress nor Siddaramaiah envisaged that the people of Karnataka did not return the incumbent to power in the last three decades. The anti-incumbency factor has caught up with the outgoing chief minister. His first four years of misgovernance came to be counted. That he could win in only one of the two constituencies he had contested speaks volumes about his popularity with the people.
As a result, the Congress has lost yet another state from its grasp. It's more than a coincidence that the party started losing ground ever since Rahul Gandhi has become the president. The Congress has no option except to have a new face at the top. But who will replace him remains the question. Ideally, Sonia Gandhi herself should re-occupy the office. The tag of being Italian is no longer there.
The other option is Priyanka Vadra—if the choice is to be confined to the dynasty. There are other leaders available but the party is so deeply linked with the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty that no other person qualifies. The tragedy is that the people of India have moved away from the dynasty, but it has not from its thinking.
The Karnataka election will certainly have repercussions for the future of Indian politics. Even though Prime Minister Modi has emerged as the country's most popular politician, he, or for that matter the BJP, cannot be absolutely sure of their prospects in 2019.
Kuldip Nayar is an eminent Indian columnist.