The Congress has virtually swept the election in Karnataka winning 136 seats out of 224. This time, the voters proved cleverer as they did not leave any opportunity for the BJP to use either its money or muscle power to come to power. The party has not won even half the seats the Congress has won.
A party, which declared its ambition of ushering in a Congress-mukt Bharat has to reconcile itself to a BJP-mukt Dakshin Bharat. The BJP has only itself to blame for the drubbing it received.
The party had no right to form a government but it managed to form one by engineering defections. Once it came to power through dubious means, it thought that it had the mandate to do whatever that pleased their leaders and cadres.
Soon, the government became synonymous with 40 percent, the cut the ministers expected in the awarding of government contracts. In comparison, Pakistani leader Benazir Bhutto’s husband was known only as “Mr Ten Percent”!
When the people of Karnataka were suffering from price rise and unemployment, the government sought to divert their attention to a non-issue. The BJP felt threatened by the hijab that some Muslim girls wore while attending classes.
The BJP declared a war on Muslim girls by not allowing hijab-wearing girls from attending schools and colleges. It did not matter to them that they were depriving the girls an opportunity to study and do well in life.
The defiance by a hijab wearer was the kind of stuff that enthused a whole lot of the population, not just Muslim women. Forget good governance, even governance was put on the back-burner as the BJP sought to drive the Christians to the wall. For no rhyme or reason, it enacted a stringent anti-conversion law, euphemistically called the Freedom of Religion Bill.
To give some nuggets of wisdom contained in the law, mass conversion was defined as conversion of two and more people. Which means if a husband and wife couple converted to Christianity, it would be declared as a mass conversion, inviting harsher punishment. If a poor child is admitted to a good school, not a government school, and the fee is taken care of by a Christian, it will be treated as an allurement.
Hijab was not the only card it used against the Muslims. They enacted a stringent anti-cow slaughter law and removed the Muslims from the Other Backward Classes (OBCs), eligible for reservation.
The government did not bestir itself when fringe groups like the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti and the Sri Ram Sene unleashed campaigns against halal meat and letting Muslim businessmen participate in temple fairs.
They even wanted a ban on the use of loudspeakers in masjids. Chief minister Basavaraj Bommai did not think it necessary to rein in these elements so much so that one BJP leader had the gumption to say that his party did not need the support of Muslims. A BJP legislator was seen egging on his supporters to bash up the Christians and if they faced any problem, he was there to help them.
One had even doubts whether the BJP was leading a democratic government in the state. What the party did not appreciate was that a large majority of the common people, meaning a majority of the Hindus, were not happy with the kind of politics they were indulging in.
For tens of thousands of Hindus who studied in Christian schools or who benefited from Christian medical institutions like St. John’s Medical College, Bangalore, it was scandalous to claim that they were there to convert people.
Crisis often brings out either the best or the worst in man. In the case of the Metropolitan Archbishop of Bengaluru Peter Machado, it was an occasion for him to prove his mettle. He made it clear that the Christian community would not be browbeaten by anyone and it would defend its rights to do their bit for the development of the country.
Unlike some bishops of Kerala, who talked about quid pro quo like offering Christian votes for increased rubber price and who talked about the glorious past when Christians were Hindus, Archbishop Machado went to the Supreme Court defending the Christian right to practice and propagate their faith.
All this had its impact on the voters who were only waiting for an opportunity to vote out the Bommai government. When Congress leader Rahul Gandhi began his Bharat Jodo Yatra from Kanyakumari, the BJP leaders were stunned by the kind of response he received in Kerala.
They took consolation in the hope that Gandhi would have to walk alone through Karnataka. The government did everything possible to disrupt his journey. But wherever he went, lakhs of people were there to cheer him up. He was mobbed at every point.
It was obvious that Gandhi had struck a chord with the masses. The results have revealed that a majority of the constituencies through which he walked have voted in favour of the Congress.
Of course, the BJP knew about the groundswell of support the Congress enjoyed. It tried to counter it by resorting to crass communalism. There was a mention of organisations like the PFI and the Bajrang Dal in the Congress manifesto. All it said was that if they tried to take the law into their own hands, it would be dealt with.
Leaders like Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, who were the star campaigners of the BJP, tried to emotionally blackmail the voters by claiming that the Congress was against Lord Hanuman. It is a different matter that the Bajrang Dal never championed the cause of the unemployed Hindus and those who lost their jobs during the Covid period. True, it was founded in Karnataka but it never won the hearts of the people by taking up people’s causes.
So when Narendra Modi exhorted the people to vote for the BJP by chanting slogans in favour of the god of love, compassion, devotion, strength and intelligence, they knew that he was conceited and, therefore, paid no attention to his exhortation.
Amit Shah, who addressed more rallies than Modi and BJP chief Jagat Prakash Nadda, claimed that the party would get 150 seats in a House of 224. The people knew that he was talking through his hat for he had no clue of the Kannadiga mind.
In all the other states where the party is in power, it is either by engineering defection as in Madhya Pradesh or joining hands with the winner as in Nagaland. In the last election in Himachal Pradesh, where the Hindus are about 97 percent of the population, the BJP failed to retain the state despite the two bearded leaders from Gujarat vigorously campaigning in the BJP president’s home state.
And in UP, the BJP won mostly because of the appeal of Yogi Adityanath, not because of the gentlemen from Gujarat. Yet, an impression has been created by the media that Modi is invincible. He could not even win the Delhi Municipal elections, though he is a voter there.
The Karnataka elections prove that the communal card does not always work. The film The Kerala Story was released with a view to influencing the voters in Karnataka. Modi used the election to promote the film.
The film was based on the claim that 32,000 women from Kerala were swayed by Love Jihad and they were indoctrinated and sent to fight in Afghanistan, Syria and other places where the Islamic State, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, is in combat.
The fact of the matter is that there were over 42,000 IS warriors, who were recruited from countries like Germany, France, the US etc. There were not even 100 Indians among them, although India has the third largest Muslim population in the world.
Modi should have been happy that Indians did not join the ranks of a terrorist organisation. Instead, he was busy promoting the film. When the film’s claims were critically examined, it transpired that only three, yes only three, women from Kerala joined the IS ranks.
Three became 32,000 in the film and the BJP government found it necessary to give the film tax exemption. In the past, films that promote national integration, family planning etc were given tax exemption. Under Modi’s regime, hate films like The Kerala Story that promotes lies and calumny get tax exemption!
Why did Modi’s campaign not make any impact in Karnataka? Because they knew that what he and Amit Shah were talking about was false. In fact, Amit Shah said at a rally that Kerala was Karnataka’s neighbour and he did not want to say anything about it. As if Kerala was a gone case.
And when John Brittas, a CPM MP, questioned him in a newspaper article, the Rajya Sabha chairman thought it necessary to summon the MP and seek a clarification. It is not known under what law he asked for such a clarification.
Of course, the people of Karnataka knew that the campaign of calumny against Kerala, which Modi once compared to Somalia in sub-Saharan Africa, was absolutely baseless. In Mangalore, which borders Kerala where Malayalam and Kannada are spoken, the people voted for a Muslim who contested on the Congress ticket.
Out of the 15 or so Congress MLAs who defected to the BJP, a majority lost the election this time. Why? People did not approve of their conduct. They knew that they would have taken money to change sides and defeat the purpose of the voters who elected them.
Defection is not something which people want. It is against this backdrop that the defeat of Jagadish Shettar, former chief minister, who contested on the Congress ticket should be seen.
The local Congress leaders had been campaigning against him and all of a sudden when they were asked to vote for him because he did not get a ticket from the BJP, they found it a difficult task. The point is that the people do not approve of the politics of turncoats like Shettar.
The Congress, perhaps, did not know that the BJP was skating on thin ice and it could fall any time.
One reason why the Congress could do well was because there was complete unity of purpose among its leaders. The state leaders played as important a role as leaders like Rahul Gandhi and his sister Priyanka Gandhi.
The strike rate in terms of rallies held and seats won of the siblings was much more than that of Modi, Shah and Nadda put together. Yet, the funny thing is that Gandhi is ridiculed as Pappu when the sobriquet fits well the two from Gujarat.
There were some armchair intellectuals who supported Shashi Tharoor when he contested against Mallikarjun Kharge for the post of Congress President. They argued that he was younger and could articulate better in English.
When the BJP tried to corner Kharge in Parliament over his remark about the BJP’s patriotism outside of the House, he stood like a rock and paid no attention to the demand that he make amends. Finally, the BJP had to end its campaign against him.
That he was at the helm of the Congress, too, played a significant role in the Congress victory in Karnataka. There is a Malayalam saying that which is sown in fire would not fade in sunlight. Kharge came up in politics the hard way and he is not likely to wilt like the lotus that wilted in Karnataka.
It is a challenge for the Congress party to elect a leader and form a government. However, they cannot complain that the voters have not given them a clear mandate.
The BJP’s defeat is not confined to Karnataka alone. It failed miserably to snatch the Jalandhar Lok Sabha seat in Punjab, held by the Congress, and the Jharsuguda Assembly seat in Odisha. In UP, it was able to win two Assembly seats by supporting an ally. What the results show is that the BJP is no longer its former self and its Modi-Shah leadership is like the “post-dated cheque drawn on a failing bank”, to quote Mahatma Gandhi. (Courtesy: The Indian Currents)