The message from Karnataka

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 21 May 2018 14:02:10










By Rahul Dixit,

Do not be ashamed to make a temporary withdrawal from the field if you see that your enemy is stronger than you; it is not winning or losing a single battle that matters, but how the war ends.
— Paulo Coelho, Warrior of the Light.

AFTER the fast-paced pot-boiler with many a twist and turn settled on Saturday afternoon in Karnataka the two big stakeholders -- Bharatiya Janata Party and Congress -- are reflecting on things that they could have done (BJP) and challenges that would test them (Congress) in the near future. The message from Karnataka is clear: It is still not over. A few sub-plots of the engaging drama are yet to unfold.

On the face of it, with B S Yeddyurappa quitting before the much-awaited floor test, the move makes BJP look like a loser. And yet, it was a gambit played well by the single largest party that chose to withdraw from the numbers game but not before making a fervent, emotional appeal to the voters. The Atal Behari Vajpayee-sque-resignation has set the tone for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

The BJP hopes that the move, similar to what then Prime Minister Vajpayee did in 1996 after failing to garner support for his 13-day old Government, will help it gain sympathy in Mission 2019 where Yeddyurappa has promised all 28 LS seats to Narendra Modi.

While the political pundits and all Opposition parties with a sudden spring in the step term it as a loss of face for the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah combine, the withdrawal from floor test is a prudent backward step by the BJP preparing for a giant leap in the southern States. It is all about learning right lessons from a defeat. The party, under Shah’s astute election manoeuvring, had roared back after the loss in Bihar two years ago. Since then victories in Assam, Uttar Pradesh, Tripura and quick tie-ups in North-Eastern States are pointers to Shah’s genius in adapting to changing dynamics of voters’ mood.

The road ahead in Karnataka is clear for BJP. And at the same time it is a difficult path full of challenges for the Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) combine. The two parties, who fought each other in the Assembly elections, have come together for a power grab. But the alliance is nothing but a marriage of convenience held together by a loose thread of mistrust.

Congress has made a massive volte-face in its stance by forging a combine with the JD(S) which was publicly termed by party president Rahul Gandhi as BJP’s ‘B’ team. Gandhi had, in fact, declared that the S in the abbreviated JD(S) stood for Sangh.

True, politics does make strange bedfellows but the magnitude of scepticism between the two parties will make it a mighty difficult task to keep the government going for long. For all its magnanimity of offering the Chief Minister’s chair to H D Kumaraswamy, the Congress just cannot afford to give JD(S) a free run to strengthen its lost ground in Karnataka. It will be the biggest self-goal by Rahul Gandhi since a strong JD(S) will only erode the Congress vote base.

JD(S) might have been compelled by the politics of power to accept the Congress offer but the party’s tacit understanding with the BJP during the election was visible on the ground, especially in the Old Mysuru constituencies. BJP played the second fiddle and helped JD(S) in its traditional battle with the Congress. The Congress lost several seats to the JD(S) there, the biggest being Chamundeshwari, where its outgoing Chief Minister Siddaramaiah lost.

Political dynamics can still result in a tectonic shift in JD(S) stand. With an eye on the 2019 pie, the H D Devegowda-led outfit can still prove to be an able ally to the BJP. Pointers of the inferential bonhomie came during the high-pitched last leg of campaign where Prime Minister Modi showered praises on former PM Devegowda. It was an indication of a possible coalition which the BJP was confident of giving their common enemy in Congress.


Another clear message from Karnataka is forging pre-poll alliances, carefully crafted by accommodating leaders with the larger goal in mind. The BJP-JD(S) coalition did not materialise but it was more of BJP’s choice to go all alone, believing in its strength. The belief was not unfounded given the large surge in tally it achieved. And yet, the party fell short of the magical numbers that would have opened to the BJP the “gateway to South India”.

Looking at the larger picture and learning from Karnataka experience, pre-electoral coalitions are important for the BJP. Pre-poll alliances can help in increasing the number of seats won. Though they come at the expense of conceding a certain number of seats to allies, the BJP has grown partly on the same principle since 1989 where it was not averse to leveraging coalitions.

Another case to buttress the point is the BJP’s remarkable electoral success in Tripura where the party strategists forged alliances with various tribal groups to finish the stronghold of CPI (M).

Keeping the old alliance partners in a good space is imperative for BJP if it is looking for another stable position in the coming Assembly polls as well as 2019 general elections. With the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) quitting the NDA, the BJP has already suffered a jolt in south. In Maharashtra, traditional ally Shiv Sena has threatened to fight alone. Sena is not only an electoral partner but also an ideological ally. Assuaging its fears and conceding a little leeway to the old partner can work as a wise investment for the future.