Karnataka Assembly Elections 2008:

Congress-JD(S) Opportunism Paves the Way for the BJP’s Rise to Power

Within a week after assuming power in Karnataka, the communal fascist BJP has come out in its true colours by killing four and injuring many innocent farmers who protested demanding seeds and fertilizers at Haveri. Instead of coming down heavily on corporate and multinational houses that refused to supply the much needed inputs in spite of pocketing heavy subsidies, the killer BJP government has fired bullets on innocent farmers. With this incident, the BJP has made its class position obvious against small and marginal farmers who are the worst sufferers wanting inputs for the already crisis-ridden cultivation. Perhaps, the BJP did mean ‘development’ – at the graveyards of small and marginal farmers and the rural poor. The incident of police firing at Haveri is a mere taste of the repressive BJP tenure to come.

BJP’s victory in Karnataka assembly elections – 2008 is not a surge of saffron but a failure of the UPA model of soft Hindutva to halt the communal and neo-liberal BJP. It is also a rejection of the opportunist JD(S) variety of ‘secularism’. The UPA model of governance and alliance has failed to halt the progress of Hindutva forces all over the country and Karnataka has also witnessed the same pattern.

Like most other poll outcomes in recent period, the Karnataka result too reveals the people’s anger against the raging agrarian crisis and spiralling prices, both of which are direct offshoots of the neo-liberal policies being implemented by the UPA and in this regard the UPA has proved to be perfect successor of the NDA. In the absence of any credible democratic alternative, people voted for BJP which was not in power in the state independently so far. BJP won not because of its assertion of communal brand of politics, not because of any one national issue but because of a combination of both ‘national’ and ‘local’ factors.

The BJP’s rise in Karnataka has been a steady process spread over the last two decades. In 1983, the BJP had 18 members in the Karnataka state assembly; went down to 2 in 1985; again rose to 4 in 1989 and saw a phenomenal increase to 40 in 1994. Since then, it has steadily increased its tally - 44 in 1999, 79 in last elections in 2004 and 110 in 2008. Karnataka has witnessed various avatars of Sangh Parivar outfits from the days of Jan Sangh right up to the BJP.

On the face of it, the BJP victory has been won on the plank of development, anti-price rise and stability, but the BJP’s politics of communal propaganda and communal violence has obviously played a catalytic role. The party has systematically exploited the Idgah Maidan issue in Hubli and Baba Budangiri issue in Chikmagalur, and has engineered anti-Muslim riots in Mangalore and Bangalore on various occasions. Having struck roots in the state, the BJP now seeks to conceal its communal colours behind the garb of ‘social engineering’, pro-farmer postures and advocacy of ‘development’.

Assembly elections have also indicated a certain realignment of social and political forces in the state. The moot point is the shift in a section of hitherto vote banks of established parties, viz., Dalits and Vokkaligas, and the BJP’s victory in Malnad region which is claimed to have been the region of Left influence, and also in most backward districts like Bellary. BJP has secured more seats in Malnad region because of its communal politics, whipping up communal frenzy centering around the Baba Budangiri issue. Its victory in coastal districts too can well be attributed to communal clashes and the extremely active Sangh Parivar outfits.

But, its victory in Bangalore is mainly because of its success in convincing middle classes and the elite about its ‘commitment to development’. The BJP has secured 17 seats out of 28 in Bangalore urban areas. This is an indication that the elitist section of middle class that benefited out of liberalisation policies has lent a much needed helping hand to the BJP in the metro city.

Likewise, aggressive sections of real estate and mining mafia have also played a decisive role in the victory of the BJP, even though the backing of the mining mafia is equally enjoyed by other bourgeois parties like the Congress and JD(S). It’s an assertion of mafia, the lumpen variety of bourgeoisie, and an offshoot of the process of liberalisation. The entire industry sector has faced a decline in recent months with the exception of the mining sector, which has, contrary to the general pattern, witnessed tremendous growth.

Its victory in the Hyderabad Karnatak region is mainly because of the people’s anger against the extreme backwardness in the region, and the generous supply of money- and muscle- to BJP by the mining mafias. The pattern is amply evident in the BJP’s victory of 7 out of 9 seats, most of which are reserved (ST) seats, in Bellary region. Its victory in Harapanahalli is a case in point, where Karunakar Reddy, a powerful mining mafia, was the candidate. Notes of the denomination of Rs. 500 and Rs.1000 were not only delivered at the doorsteps of voters but were literally flying in the air in this drought-ridden, most backward constituency.

The fact that neither the Dalit parties (including the BSP) nor the Left forces were effective in channelising the discontent brewing among Dalits and other downtrodden is a warning signal for progressive forces in the state. The BJP has won 22 out of 36 seats reserved for SCs against 10 by the Congress and 7 out of 16 seats reserved for STs. Prof. Assadi says that most of the reserved seats that BJP won are from Lingayat dominated areas, which means that the dominant community of Lingayats has supported Dalit candidates for the victory of the BJP. Dalits have by and large backed the BJP in this election with the BSP hardly succeeding in making an inroad. It managed to finish second only in two constituencies, that too mainly because of locally popular candidates.

At the same time, it’s also a lesson for the progressive forces in the state that are not yet successful in mobilising and asserting the agenda of the poor and the downtrodden. This is evident from the performance of Left forces, including the new platform of Sarvodaya Party. Perhaps, the Sarvodaya platform of Dalit and farmers organisations paid a heavy price for adopting a soft approach towards the Congress. In fact, they declared open support to the Congress in constituencies where they were not in the fray.

Performance of all Left parties are almost similar barring the CPI(M)’s performance in one seat where though they lost their MLA they secured more than 30000 votes and became the runner-up. In all other constituencies, maximum number of votes that the Left could secure was only around 10,000. The CPI(ML) polled nearly 7,000 votes in the SC reserved seat of Kanakagiri and polled nearly 2000 and 1000 in two ST reserved seats.

Overall, the BJP has tasted victory by emerging as a party of dominant castes, Lingayats and Brahmins while winning the support of elitist sections of the middle class and the aggressive backing of the money- and muscle-power of the lumpen bourgeoisie represented by real estate and mining mafia. Its main success lies in tilting the balance in its favour by engineering a divide among certain sections - Vokkaligas and Dalits that were hitherto interchangeable social base of the Congress and Dalit parties.

With the BJP coming to power, the degeneration of Lohiaite, socialist influence and also the influence of the much acclaimed Dalit movement in the state has come a full circle. With communal fascism in state power, the polity has offered an excellent opportunity for the Left, democratic and progressive forces to wage a direct battle against the forces of obscurantism and of the status quo. It is for the progressive forces to grab the opportunity without displaying any vacillation towards the so-called ‘secular’ potential of the Congress and the JD(S).

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