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Millennium Post

Wilting lotus, dwindling stand

Normally, it is difficult for me to be cynical like media pundits generally are. But after looking at election results in so many states since 2010, the one sad conclusion that I can draw is that the corruption card is being overstated and over-hyped.

In Karnataka, the Lokayukta, Justice Santosh Hegde accused the BJP government led by the then Chief Minister B S Yeddyurappa of corruption. Subsequently, Yeddyurappa was forced to step down. In a significant development, the Karnataka High Court actually absolved Yeddyurappa of some charges slapped against him. Despite this, Yeddyurappa was treated badly by the top leadership of the BJP and he quit the party a bitter and frustrated man to form his own party. Yeddyurappa vowed to ensure that the BJP is given a humiliating defeat in the Karnataka assembly elections. He has ensured that and the BJP has indeed lost very badly. Now look at what happened in Himachal Pradesh last year. Despite serious charges of corruption against him, the Congress made Virbhadra Singh the de facto candidate for the post of chief minister. The ‘tainted’ Virbhadra Singh led his Congress party to a very comfortable victory and became chief minister. Of course, this is a surface analysis and many other factors must have played a role in deciding the results in Himachal and Karnataka. But you cannot escape the sad conclusion that corruption is overrated as an election issue. And that really is the sad news for India.

In Kerala, the Left Front government faced numerous corruption charges and Kerala had a divided house prior to the assembly elections. Despite political pundits insisting that Kerala voters were fed up with Left Front government’s corruption, the Congress front actually won just one seat more than the Left Front. This was perhaps the narrowest victory in the history of assembly elections in independent India. Something similar happened in Uttarakhand. Here again, the BJP government faced serious charges of corruption. Political pundits insisted that the voter was so angry with the corruption of the BJP government that it would hand a sweeping victory to the Congress. When election results were announced, it was discovered that the Congress victory at the end of the day was as narrow as its victory in Kerala.

The clinching evidence for this hypothesis of mine – that corruption is being overrated as a poll plank by politicians – comes from Punjab. The Akali Dal-BJP government ruling Punjab faced serious charges of corruption. Most political pundits and opinion polls gave a handsome victory to the Congress. And what actually happened? The ‘tainted’ alliance of the Akali Dal and the BJP won a historic mandate and humiliated the Congress and Captain Amarinder Singh. That is the sad reality in India. We may talk in television studios and seminars about corruption and how voters punish the corrupt. What actually happens at the ground level is completely different. Unfortunately, our system has become so rotten that the Indian voter really doesn’t have much of a choice. Look at Maharashtra. The Congress-NCP alliance has been leading one of the worst governments of the country when it comes to corruption and governance, with a shameful number of farmer suicides year after year. And yet, the alliance keeps winning elections. Look also at Tamil Nadu. Sure, the voter punished the DMK government because of corruption. But Jayalalitha, who won a huge victory, faces equally serious corruption charges. Look also at Uttar Pradesh. The Samajwadi Party, led by Mulayam Singh Yadav who faces serious charges of corruption, won a decisive victory in the assembly elections.

But that is just one part of what I am trying to suggest; the other part relates to the suicidal behaviour of the BJP. The UPA government has become so unpopular and the average Indian citizen so angry with the Congress and its unending scams that the next Lok Sabha elections should be a cakewalk for a BJP-led alliance. But it doesn’t look like that is going to happen. And that is because the BJP is a bitterly divided house. It is now clear that some old Delhi-based leaders of the BJP are hell-bent on not allowing space to popular regional leaders. The manner in which the top brass of the party is handling the Narendra Modi issue gives clear indications of that. Look at the past. The BJP ensured the exit of former UP Chief Minister Kalyan Singh who was a formidable grassroots leader. The BJP ensured the exit of former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Uma Bharati who was a formidable grassroots leader. The BJP ensured the exit of former Jharkhand Chief Minister Babulal Marandi who was a formidable grassroots leader.

The BJP ensured the exit of Yeddyurappa, who was a formidable grassroots leader. And the BJP almost ensured the exit of two more former chief ministers Vasundhara Raje Scindia of Rajasthan and General Khanduri of Uttarakhand. At this rate, it won’t be surprising if the BJP commits suicide in 2014.

There is still time for the top leadership of the BJP to wake up and smell the coffee. But will they?

The author is a management guru and director of IIPM Think tank.
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