Saturday, May 25

Karnataka 2013: What Next?

It may not have made a monumental difference to its result. Yet, I would have like it better if not forced to watch the recent state elections in Karnataka entirely from the sidelines. I had little choice though: our move to India's IT Capital was far too recent for us to have a vote, and I got a taste of what it would have felt to be among the disenfranchised.

As it turned out, the contest was even more one-sided than expected. The incumbent BJP dispensation, synonymous with misgovernance, corruption and a widely perceived disconnect with the electorate, was any ways faced with an uphill task. Perhaps it would have weathered the storm better, but a three-way split in its vote left it with no chance. A beleaguered Congress, stung nationally by a second summer of scandal (and an intervening winter of discontent), had some reason to cheer with a clear mandate in the State.

I don't know if many in the BJP were surprised by the result. Sure, India's principal national Opposition party would have been happier if they hadn't been pipped to the lead Opposition status by the JD-S. Equally, they rightly worry about the ground ceded not only to a resurgent Congress, but even the HDK-led JD-S, among the usually more discerning urban voters. Yet, the saffron dream had gone sour in their fabled 'Gateway to the South' a lot earlier. Naturally, their otherwise feisty spokespersons tried their utmost to minimize airtime on Karnataka results, focusing debate in national media on the scam-battered Centre. (That a bumbling UPA-2 continues to provide grist to these windmills, has more to it than meets the eye; but that is another - and far more sordid - story!)

Does the Congress have enough to rejoice in its Vidhan Soudha victory? I would call it a mixed bag. Faced with the possibility of a rout in Andhra, and reverses expected in TN, the UPA is desperately looking at key states to make up its losses. As things stand, it comes up woefully short. That, incidentally is the likely reason for the unashamed wooing of a Nitish in Bihar despite a 'committed' Laloo ji with his Barkis-is-willin' messages. One hears of a personal subtext too in Shri Chidambaram's new-found bonhomie with the Bihar strongman; a fact that the Congress High Command may be unwilling to admit publicly. At any rate, gains in Karnataka help, but need to be seen in the context of its relatively small 28 MP size in Lok Sabha arithmetic.

How does that leave the BJP (in itself a complicated call, it seems too much to prognosticate on the NDA overall) in 2014 battle stakes? I would venture to say that they have a lot of work cut out. Their fixation with the leadership question is almost reminiscent of the erstwhile Janata party; as if the electoral contest was in the bag and this was the only issue left to be solved for.

At one level, the BJP's predicament is understandable. It is difficult to see the party cross 200 minus Narendra Modi at the helm (at least so the cadre believes). Yet, it is even more difficult to find a more politically incendiary figure in India today. In fact, that so few folks in our polity tread the middle ground when it comes to NaMo must count as a significant achievement of Congress's post 2002 strategy (aided no doubt by a wide section of the media sympathetic either directly to it, or to the 'secular' cause). The last word on this remains to be said though; I am sure this will continue to occupy centre stage over the next few months.

Coming back to Karnataka, for the Congress's sake (and mine, given clear infrastructure gaps in namma Bengaluru itself, among other things), I hope the new Karnataka regime does enough on the ground to consolidate the vote ahead of the Lok Sabha elections. As things stand, 2014 remains a tough call. Can the UPA get its governance mechanism back enough to perform a hat-trick? Shall the BJP and-or NDA get its house in order, politically as well electorally, to get third time lucky? Or will the nation be unfortunately subject to a post-poll ragtag Third Front led coalition as most pundits currently postulate?

Lets keep watching...