Assembly Elections 2013: People’s Mandate Against BJP Against Communalism, Corruption and Non-Performance

Karnataka assembly election results have blown out many popular myths surrounding the BJP’s so-called Lingayat vote-bank, influence of money power, invincibility and indispensability of land, mining and other mafia in Karnataka’s politics. The BJP has been dealt a severe blow. Its defeat in its own fortress of Dakshina Kannada and Udupi districts is an important pointer to the fact that the people of Karnataka have delivered a clear-cut mandate against communalism, corruption and non-performance. If the Congress will follow the same BJP line, it will also taste the same fate. That is the message of this election for the Congress as well.

When the BJP captured power in Karnataka in 2008, through manipulations and flexing the money-power of the mining mafia, Karnataka was considered as the party’s political laboratory in South India. The BJP’s victory in Karnataka was considered to be a gateway, a launching pad for the party’s southern expedition. But the saffron dreams have been shattered by the 2013 Assembly elections. Karnataka’s assembly election results reflect a popular mandate against corruption and communalism as well as an altered alignment of caste power-groups.

Verdict against BJP, not a positive vote for Congress

The verdict in Karnataka is more a verdict against the BJP than a positive verdict in favour of the Congress. The Congress has improved its share of popular vote only by a mere 1.78% from 34.76% in 2008 to 36.54% in 2013. This meagre increase has accrued to the Congress after the state experienced the spectacle of three Chief Ministers presiding over a series of unprecedented scams in five years and the BJP suffered three successive splits (the first one with the Reddy brothers’ exit, the second one with the Reddy brothers’ ally Sriramulu forming BSR Congress and the last one with Yeddyurappa launching his own KJP). The BJP’s vote share declined from 33.86% in 2008 to 19.95% in 2013 – this of course means that the BJP as a trend has come to stay in Karnataka politics. The JD(S) has improved its vote share by 1.15% from 18.95% in 2008 to 20.10% in 2013. All these vote shares have translated into 121 seats for Congress, 40 for BJP, 40 for JD(S), 6 for KJP and 4 for BSR Congress. Numbers of successful independents, most of them rebel candidates, have grown from six in 2008 to nine in 2013.

It will be wrong to attribute the BJP’s emphatic defeat merely or primarily to the splits in the party. Even if one were to hypothetically combine the KJP’s 9.84% and BSR Congress’ 2.69% vote with that of the BJP, the total vote share of this combine comes closer to 32.5%, leaving the BJP still second in terms of vote-share. In terms of seats, this ‘united’ vote share could have fetched the BJP a tally of not more than 80-87 seats. But the ‘addition’ of the vote-shares of the three parties is only a numerical illusion – the BJP suffered primarily because of its track-record of corruption and non-performance and a ‘united’ BJP under the leadership of Yeddyurappa would perhaps have attracted the ire of the electorate more, and not less emphatically.

Corruption galore

At the very beginning of the BJP government in 2008, “Operation Kamala” was launched with the aid of money power of the mining mafia to lure independent MLAs to secure majority for the BJP government in connivance with the Bellary Brothers. The CBI charge sheeted the then Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa and his family members and the mining firm JSW Steel for criminal conspiracy, cheating, forgery and corruption. The payment of Rs.40 crore was a bribe to Yeddy’s family that was routed through a trust run by his family members as a gift for showering official favours on the company in 2010. Many BJP ministers were sent to jail on corruption charges. The BJP’s moral standards also took a severe beating with its ministers caught watching pornography on the floors of the assembly. The BJP stood completely discredited as the party tried to hold on to power and save the first saffron government in the south of the Vindhyas by hook or crook.

One should not however misunderstand that only the BJP was corrupt. An analysis based on the affidavits filed by MLA candidates reveals that average growth in wealth of 92 re-elected MLAs was Rs.12.62 crores in the last five years. The average growth in the wealth of 43 re-elected Congress MLAs was 17.5 crores and that of JD(S) MLAs was 13.35 crores even though they were in opposition. 203 elected MLAs, 93 percent of the newly constituted Karnataka assembly are crorepatis, out of 218 affidavits analysed by an NGO. This apart, the UPA government at the center also stood exposed with myriad scandals. Still, compared to corruption by the BJP, the corruption by the Congress at the centre did not become a major issue in elections as it was in the opposition in the state. The alarming rise in the wealth of sitting MLAs and the increasing role of crorepatis in elections and in the composition of the assembly needs further probe.

Communal laboratory

The eight constituencies in Dakshina Kannada district and five constituencies in Udupi District ‒ were considered to be the “Hindutva Lab” of Karnataka. In 2008, the BJP got 10 out of 13 seats in the two coastal districts. In coastal Karnataka, the BJP’s stronghold, the party’s vote share dropped by 7% between 2008 and 2013. Even if we combine the vote share of KJP and BSRC with that of BJP, still, there is a gap of 4%. The BJP managed to get only two seats from these two coastal districts. Extreme acts of moral policing, attacks on women in pubs, attacks on churches, and attacks on Muslims were given a fitting rebuff by the people. Blatant state sponsored communalism embedded in legislation of an act against cow slaughter gave rise to enormous resentment not only among the Muslims but among all democracy-loving citizens. Atrocious acts of ‘moral policing’ by the Sangh Parivar forces also alienated the BJP from the common in these districts.

The electoral outcome also debunked the BJP’s belief that Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi would be able to sway voters in its favor. He visited Karnataka twice and addressed well-attended public meetings in Bangalore, Mangalore and Belgaum. His ineffectiveness was most glaring in Mangalore, the headquarters of Dakshina Kannada district. Puttur was the hotbed of Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh activities in Dakshina Kannada district. The electorate here, thanks to religious identity politics, had become polarized on communal lines, making it an ideal setting for Modi’s kind of politics. Still, Modi failed to stage any ‘magic’ and failed to consolidate Hindu votes here; the BJP lost three — Mangalore North, Mangalore South and Puttur—of the four seats it held. In Udupi district the party fared no better, winning just one of five seats. Modi magic clearly did not work in the hotbed of “Hindutva Lab” in Karnataka.

The Politics of Caste and Social Coalitions

In order to reinforce its links with the Lingayat community, the BJP generously gave away huge sums of public money to Lingayat mutts. Seeking to co-opt Lingayat mutts, the BJP dispensed with both legislative and departmental procedures in bestowing largesse on them, which accord¬ing to one RTI note accounts for close to Rs 1,000 crore. The BJP was trying to nurture this caste group as its own vote bank. The election results have debunked the long-held contention of the BJP and Yeddyurappa that they are the natural choice of Lingayats. Lingayats, the socially, economically and politically dominant community in the northern regions of the state, appear to have voted almost evenly for the four parties in the reckoning. In 2008, the BJP gained the most in the North Karnataka region.

The BJP seems to have tried the Gujarat model of hitching on to a numerically strong, dominant community (the Patels in Gujarat and the Lingayats in Karnataka) and gradually expanding its social base to electorally significant groups and a section of the downtrodden through a series of political and social actions and alliances. In Gujarat, the BJP was able to break the Congress’ social alliance of the KHAM (Kshatriya, Harijan, Adivasi and Muslim) by co-opting some of them under the political leadership of the Patels and isolating the others. In the backdrop of objective socio-political realities in Karnataka that is entirely different from that of BJP-ruled western and northern states like Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, the BJP failed to effect the same kind of social coalition, in spite of being successful in mustering the support of the dominant community, the Lingayats, in its initial phase. The Congress appears to have become successful, at least for the time being, in reviving Devaraj Urs’ formula of the social coalition of minorities, Dalits and the OBCs. In fact, the growing feeling of insecurity among minorities and popular support of some sections of numerically large OBCs, like Kurubas and sections of Vokkaligas, have played a major role in securing victory for the Congress.

With the elevation of Siddaramaiah as Chief Minister, one can also say that the power centre has moved to Old Mysore region once again. But, it is the North Karnataka region that has played a decisive role, for many decades, in deciding which party will rule the state. In every election, parties securing around 50-60 seats from the region have formed government in the state. Lingayat dominated North Karnataka region has always been associated with the growth of BJP in the state. Even when the BJP won 18 seats from the state for the first time, North Karnataka contributed 11 seats. In the 1989 elections, 50 percent of the seats secured by the BJP were form North Karnataka region and the trend continued in the subsequent elections as well.

Other Parties

Janata Dal (Secular) continues to enjoy the support of Vokkaligas in Old Mysore region and the electoral battle was only between the Congress and JD(S) in this region. Other parties were relegated to the background and became insignificant. The secret of the success of the JD(S) in the old Mysore region is revival of its appeal among minorities in the period of post-honeymoon with the BJP rather than their Vokkaliga social base. The ambition of the JD(S) to become an all Karnataka party has been belied once again.

Yeddyurappa-led Karnataka Janata Paksha (KJP) has played a spoilsport for the BJP. In spite of not winning many seats (only 6), the KJP’s electoral performance has damaged the BJP to a large extent. Yeddy’s KJP has occupied second slot in 35 constituencies and third slot in another 36 constituencies. This is the fact on which Yeddy is banking upon to emerge as a strong regional party in future. According to Yeddyurappa, in the era of the rule of coalitions of political parties, regional parties have a major role to play in the emerging political scenario in the state as well as in the centre. His dreams of playing a decisive role in the formation of the government in the state by securing two digit seats have become a misnomer. Still, he is dreaming of becoming a strong regional party in Karnataka in the near future.

Badavara, Shramikara, Raithara (BSR) Congress party of the mining baron Janardhan Reddy and his associate Sriramulu could secure only 4 seats in their stronghold. Sriramulu’s dream of playing tribal card to enroll support to the party of mining mafia did not succeed but for spoiling the chances of BJP victory in many constituencies in mining region. Defeat of BSR Congress does not mean defeat of the role of mining mafia in the district and in the state politics. Other mining barons of Congress have also entered the assembly from Bellary region along with 4 MLAs of BSR Congress. Some are occupying ministerial berths also. The claim for political power by the forces of crony capitalism, mainly represented by the land and mining mafia in the state is still on, albeit in other forms.

Left and Democratic Forces

The political forces beyond established bourgeois parties have not been able to make a dent in this election. The only exception is the surprising victory of the farmers’ leader K S Puttanniah of Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha (KRRS) under the banner of Sarvodaya Karnataka Paksha in the Vokkaliga stronghold. Mr. Puttannaiah has been a regular contestant in elections in Mandya district for many times and is representing a consistent movement of the farmers in the region.

It was welcome that the CPI and CPI(M) contested elections without any alliance with any bourgeois formations this time. The CPI(M) polled around 35000 votes in the lone constituency, Bagepalli, where they had an MLA earlier and the CPI polled around 12000 votes in one constituency. Parties like the CPI(ML)(Liberation), CPI(ML)(Red Star) and SUCI(C) contested in select seats different parts of the state but failed make their presence felt in terms of votes polled.

Both the BJP and the Congress have indulged in competitive populism through their election manifestos. The space for people’s political struggle is wide open and the Left and democratic forces will have to redouble their efforts in channelizing people’s anger against the impact of liberalization policies of the government and in raising them to the level of a political movement.

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