K'taka sets the tone for battle 2019
Big data to marry big money, and the indomitable Modi-Shah election machinery to meet a united Opposition
Now that the dust has settled on Karnataka results and BS Yeddyurappa has resigned in absence of a majority, neither natural nor manufactured, we need to look at the bigger picture. It was indeed a queer scenario: BJP has got more seats but less than majority, Congress has got more votes but less seats, JD(S) has got least seats but is forming the government with support of the Congress. It is obvious that BJP could have get 9 more MLAs to make government only by breaking Congress or JD(S). So, when called first, only resorted to horse-trading. As for Congress+JDS combine with 118 MLAs, 5 more than majority, and with 2 independent MLAs support, they were in a position to make the government on numbers, though no one can tell about stability. Stability is an issue of the future, numbers make the government in the present. And since the Supreme Court virtually censured the Governor by bringing 15 days window to just 24 hours, in fitness of things, the Gujarati Governor of Karnataka and a long-term RSS man, builder by profession, and a Modi loyalist by politics who quit his seat once for Modi to be elected first time as MLA, should now resign as Governor. There also should be a debate on the powers and pelf of the Governors in India.
Uniformity in principles in case of hung legislatures
Supreme Court ruling in the Bommai case with respect to hung legislatures, notes that the Governor should call: (A) Leader of the pre- or post-poll combination which is most likely to provide a stable government; if not, then (B) Leader of the single largest party; if not/fails, then (C) breakdown of Constitutional Machinery leading to a new election. Based on this, in Goa, Manipur, and Meghalaya recently, the Governors called the leader of the largest post-poll combination of parties, and NOT the leader of the largest single party to form government. So, why did we see dithering in case of Karnataka this time?
India also needs to seriously debate on whether to have separate weightage for seats and vote-shares as in many democracies, and whether to continue with ambiguity in the powers of the Governors, etc.
Only a united opposition can combat BJP
Results show that in spite of higher vote share (38 per cent), Congress could not win more seats than the BJP (36 per cent), and if the opposition votes of Congress, JDS and BSP are added, they have a sweeping victory in Karnataka with a whopping 58 per cent, as noted rightly by the West Bengal Chief Minister, Mamata Banerjee. Hence, politics in every state ahead will take a bipolar character: BJP and non-BJP, similar to what it was like Congress and non-Congress just a decade ago against Indira Gandhi.
It is also significant to note that Congress CM Siddaramaih (Siddu) had reposed faith in his AHIND formula of uniting Muslims, Dalits, and tribals who together account for 39 per cent of the electorate. But the combination seems to have got split between Congress and JDS-BSP combine as their constituencies are similar. Thus, Congress lost out on major mass vote counts.
However, the failure of BJP in its attempt to manufacture majority in Karnataka this time would now lead to an Opposition Unity. It is clear that the pre-poll unity of all non-BJP forces is the only route to combat BJP, as was the case when all anti-Indira forces united to hand down a befitting defeat to Indira Congress after the emergency in 1977.
Further, moving ahead, Rahul Gandhi led Congress is expected to give state leadership to the most powerful regional party (or combination, as in UP) in each state in exchange of its support to Congress at the Centre. Where there is no regional party (like Rajasthan or MP or Gujarat), it remains bipolar anyways. Rahul has matured and has shown signs of accommodating the regional allies, which is in contrast to the loss of regional allies of BJP in Maharashtra or Andhra Pradesh.
Corruption is the new normal, winnability counts
The success of BJP in the Karnataka polls to emerge as single largest party also proves that corruption was a non-issue in the polls since the CM face Yeddyurappa had to resign last time on corruption charges, but was still given leadership, and the mining scam-tainted Reddy brothers of Bellary had been given 8 seats by BJP. Association of Democratic Rights says that 37 per cent of BJP candidates have criminal cases, with 27 per cent having serious cases like murders and rapes, while the corresponding figures are 25 per cent and 14 per cent for Congress. However, 94 per cent of Congress candidates were crorepatis while 93 per cent of BJP candidates were the same.
For all major parties, only winnability counts, whether based on identity considerations or resources they command, to make an impact on the ground during electioneering, and not corruption or wealth amassed, and this will continue ahead.
Big money meets big data
To simplify the Big Data approach, if a party (or a candidate) has a good idea of the political views and likes/dislikes of as many voters as possible, it can use this information to fine-tune its own outreach to voters and influence their votes.
A new ploy like this can indeed decide the outcome when elections are won and lost over a margin of a few votes. All parties used this in Karnataka to the hilt, but BJP did it more successfully. This brings us to the next attack on the gullible voter: Funds. This was arguably also the costliest election of its kind in India so far. Money and muscle power are now replaced by money and data power.
Thus, in place of social engineering, it is time for social media engineering.
Elections in India are now fought and won on WhatsApp. Debates and rallies give cues to be WhatsApped with a deadly concoction of factoids and lies. In this high profile election, seen as a preview of India's national election next year, the country's two major political parties noted that they each amassed more than 20,000 WhatsApp groups, thereby claiming they could reach more than 1.5 million loyalists in minutes.
But many of those messages have been false and inflammatory, twisting the words of political opponents and ratcheting up tensions between Hindu nationalists and the country's Muslim minority. The multiple WhatsApp messages on the false story of 23 Hindu activists killed by Mulsim outfits in Karnataka is a glaring example that led to communal polarisation in coastal Karnataka, rendered worse by the rabble-rousing by two BJP MPs there, Shobha Karandajle and Anant Hegde.
WhatsApp as a personalised amplification tool is expected to be heavily used ahead in electoral battles and if unchecked can wreak havoc.
Concerns in the long run
Karnataka marks the beginning of a new trend in politics –armed with all the relevant information about the voters, technical wizkids were out to manipulate their behaviour. Post-truths had a field day. Pushed out of the agenda were all the issues that mattered to the citizens, like corruption, welfare measures, peace, infrastructure, farmers' woes, etc. Democracy in its content may remain intact but it will be flagrantly violated in spirit if these trends continue.
That is the sad essence of the Karnataka election.
(Prof Ujjwal K Chowdhury is School Head, School of Media, Pearl Academy. The views expressed are strictly personal)