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Karnataka results rattle BJP

The predictable outcome in Karnataka does not diminish its value, for it has lessons for both the winner and the loser. To start with the latter, the observation of a BJP spokesman, Rajiv Prasad Rudy, was an indication how badly the party has been rattled by the result. Asked to comment on the BJP’s defeat, Rudy resorted to a counter-question: ‘so what?’ 

What the remark showed was that the party had been unable to formulate a formal response to the outcome. And the reason was not only the setback, which was expected even before the findings of the exit polls were published, but its scale. To come third after the Congress and the JD (S) was apparently not something which the party anticipated. What is more, both the magnitude of the defeat, and the basic explanation for it – B S Yeddyurappa’s revolt – suggest that it will be extremely difficult for the BJP to claw its way back into reckoning. 

The going for it will be tough for two reasons. First, to make amends, it will have to reach out to Yeddyurappa. But, that is an option which can create more complications than it will solve because, as a loyalist of the former chief minister pointed out, there are powerful elements in the party who are opposed to Yeddyurappa. Moreover, they include not only Ananth Kumar, who was Yeddyurappa’s rival in Karnataka, but also leaders at the central level.

It is obvious, therefore, that in the absence of a reconciliation with the Lingayat leader, the BJP will continue to be on the back foot. As a result, the satisfaction it had felt when it was able to secure a foothold south of the Vindhyas, would turn out to be short-lived. It is the perception, therefore, that the party may have reached a dead end in the state which made the spokesman ask, ‘So what?’ with a sense of resignation.

Secondly, the fact that it wasn’t only Yeddyurappa’s departure which led to the party’s downfall, but also the widespread allegations of corruption which hurt the party must be a matter of concern to the BJP leadership. The defeat of the Bellary brothers, who were once very close to Sushma Swaraj, is an indication that the electorate did not take kindly to the BJP’s role while in office. Considering that corruption in public life is going to be a major topic in the coming elections in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Delhi – not to mention the general election next year – the BJP’s fate in Karnataka will be analysed. The Congress will do well to pay close attention to the verdict since its reputation has been under a cloud ever since the scams starting erupting two years ago at the central level.

Till now, the Congress has ducked the issue by depending on the Supreme Court to take the unpleasant decisions, like incarcerating Andimuthu Raja, for instance, for a few months. But, the Karnataka outcome shows that the public is not easily fooled. For instance, Yeddyurappa’s ouster did not help the BJP. The people realised that but for the Lokayukta’s and the judiciary’s strictures, the party would not have acted against Yeddyurappa, who was said to have been guilty of a moral lapse and not a legal one, according to the BJP’s former president, Nitin Gadkari.

If the Congress believes, therefore, that it can outsource the task of ensuring probity in public life to the judiciary, and that it has no responsibility in the matter of easing out the corrupt from the party and government, it may have to pay a heavy price in the coming state assembly elections and also in the general election. Its difficulties will be all the greater because the party’s earlier surefire vote-catchers belonging to the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty are losing their appeal. The Karnataka results suggest that just as Narendra Modi did not prove to be the bearer of a magic wand for the BJP, the Congress’s first family could not be credited with the party’s success. The victory was by default since it was the BJP’s failures which helped the Congress.

Considering that the BJP had shot itself in the foot in Karnataka, the outcome does not prove anything, except that sleaze does not pay. The real political standings of the Congress and the BJP will be tested, therefore, in the forthcoming assembly elections whose results cannot be easily foreseen. The test will also be for the dynasty and the BJP’s supposedly most popular leader, Modi. 

The latter will be even more on edge since he will not like a repetition of his inability to make an impact in Karnataka in the other states. As for the BJP, it has to be seen whether after its latest setback, it turns to Hindutva to boost its prospects. IPA 

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