Political Economy

The Discourse Around Karnataka Development Model Can't Overlook its Inherent Contradictions

Since the Congress party's victory in Karnataka, there has been lot of discussion around Karnataka model of development and Karnataka model of resistance to fascism across the country. However, such uncritical endorsement of any such models overshadows their inherent limitations and possible deceptions.

After the Congress came to power in Karnataka, riding on a strong wave against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government and due to its new tactical pact with the electorate over five pro-people guarantees, the claims of “the Karnataka model of development” and “the Karnataka model of resistance to fascism” have been under discussion widely across the country. But, the time has come to dwell a little deep into the veracity of its claims, so that immediate gains from these models do not shadow its inherent limitations and possible deceptions.

Civil society resistance: Positive but problematic

The Karnataka model of resistance is primarily a reference to the active campaign by some civil society organisations, coalitions of people’s organisations, and NGOs in Karnataka against the BJP in the assembly election. It also refers to their strategy to collaborate with non-BJP parties to defeat the BJP. Additionally, a perception that the efforts of these honest and anti-fascist groups played a major role in the outcome of the Karnataka election, where the BJP suffered a humiliating defeat, has also led to an over-enthusiastic debate across the country about the Karnataka model of resistance.

Also read: Analysing the Congress’s Victory in Karnataka After the Initial Hype

While the relief brought about by the election results is real, and the role of civil society groups in it is very positive, the role of civil society, however, is exaggerated – which this author has been explained by this author in his previous articles.

In short, while the BJP’s electoral defeat was a relief, the Congress’s victory has not succeeded in shaking the BJP’s stabilised and growing communal social and ideological base. This is evident from the fact that despite the strong anti-incumbency wave, the BJP has been able to retain its vote share. And, in areas where communal riots and incidents took place, communalism concealed anti-BJP resentment on the ground.

Basavaraj Bommai, J.P. Nadda and B.S. Yediyurappa release the BJP’s manifesto for Karnataka, May 1, 2023. Photo: Twitter/@JPNadda

Much worse is the fact that the Congress government, in the last five months of rule, not only has not shown much enthusiasm to curb the communal right wing but also on some occasions facilitated the continuity of its influence and hegemony.

On the contrary, even when Sonia Gandhi, the supreme leader of the Congress party, is giving a call for loud voices of justice for peace and justice in Palestine, the Congress government in Karnataka is not even allowing a whisper against the ongoing genocide and ethnic cleansing in Palestine. Much worse, it is arresting and filing cases against peace activists.

While civil society activism was heartening and unique, it only served in furthering what Dalits, Muslims, and women had decided earlier, to vote out the BJP. It would, therefore, be an exaggeration to assume that the campaigns started by civil society groups two months before the elections were able to defeat the propaganda and ideological organisations that the Sangh parivar has been carrying out every day for many decades.

Nevertheless, whatever the differences in the estimates of the impact of civil society, their more active interaction with the people in this election than ever before is likely to do good for the polity of Karnataka in the long run.

Therefore, it is necessary for the civil society of Karnataka to retain its activism even during the Lok Sabha elections and learn some lessons from the mistakes that may have been made in the campaign for the assembly elections.

There is a need to ensure that people do not get the impression that these groups are proxies for the Congress party. In the long run, it would be desirable and welcome that during the Lok Sabha elections, it would be politically prudent for civil society to emphasise and delineate a pro-people policy agenda while firmly giving a call for the defeat of the BJP, which has been the embodiment of forces opposed to the constitution.

Against the backdrop of the alliance between the BJP and Janata Dal (Secular), civil society organisations need to recalibrate their approach by factoring in the far-reaching aspirations of the constitution. As for the Congress, which will certainly reap benefits from the campaign rolled out by civil society organisations, the party needs to keep in mind the interests of the people for it to continuously receive support from civil society.

Also read: Downplaying the Importance of BJP’s Defeat in Karnataka Elections Is Dishonesty

Unfortunately, barring some exceptions, the appalling silence of civil society groups about the anti-people policy initiatives and pro-Hindutva compromises of the Congress government in the last few months do not bode well either for an anti-fascist strategy or a healthy polity of the state.

Contradictions of Karnataka model of development

The historic victory of the Congress over the BJP in the Karnataka assembly elections, the rolling out of five guarantees, and their grand portrayal have given birth to an exaggerated narrative about ‘Karnataka model of development’. In fact, chief minister Siddaramaiah has officially announced it as a ‘Karnataka model of inclusive development’ in his budget speech.

File photo. Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Photo: X (Twitter).

The BJP of Karnataka, at both state and national level, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself, have been unethically and with the corporate interest in mind, have been trying to defame and thwart the guaranteed programmes which help the people and fulfill some minor constitutional responsibility of a welfare state.

Thus, popular organisations, thinkers, and analysts have been justifiably defending the guarantees of the Congress government by underlining the economic and social dimensions of the benefits of the guarantees. Thereby, they are effectively exposing the anti-people corporate interests behind the BJP’s fascist political ideology.

But these justifications, in the pursuit of exposing the BJP’s corporate agenda, have become blind to the inherent contradictions in this Congress model of development. The Congress government, which has basically embraced the corporate capitalist model of development, is using this opportunity to claim its model as an alternative economic model. However, there are many fundamental problems and underlying contradictions in this narrative.

Pro-corporate development versus social justice

Not so surprisingly, the budget presented by the Siddaramaiah government, except for the guarantees, is a deceptive copy of the Modi economic model. The core economic and fiscal strategies are just the same; for instance, the Karnataka budget also speaks of a trillion-dollar economy and the guidelines to achieve it.

In fact, the target set in the budget, the guidelines and nine sectors identified to achieve it, and the steps proposed to be taken are all inspired by the development perspective evolved by the previous BJP government, headed by Basavaraj Bommai. The BJP’s model was designed on the guidance received from corporate tycoon Mohandas Pai to realise Modi’s dream of a $5 trillion economy!

There lies an inherent contradiction between a pro-corporate development model and a model based on distributive justice. Social justice is just not a principle limited to the distribution of the fruits of development. If it is not reflected in the development model, the guarantees will fail even before its warranty expires.

It is because the pro-corporate development model is aimed not at investment that creates jobs but only at achieving an increase in the Karnataka state’s gross state domestic product (GSDP) by creating opportunities for investment of corporate capital in areas of higher rate of profit. The fiscal loss in promoting these corporate ventures result in a fiscal crisis very soon, where the causality would be the people’s welfare. This has been a repeated experience in the last 30 years after India took to the neo-liberal development model in the 1990s. Like the Modi development model, the drivers of Congress’s development model are also corporate capitalists, and not the small farmers, farm labourers, labourers, and MSMEs (micro, small, and medium enterprises) which make up the majority, in this country.

Modi’s development model relies on semiconductor, green hydrogen, ever-high investment, and high technology-dependent investments from abroad, which do not create many jobs, while the BJP and its supporters continue to assert it as development.

This is the model, verbatim, of industrial development in Siddaramaiah’s budget. Only public investment – essentially government investment – with a pro-people vision can create jobs for the common man. Only if jobs are created will the income of the people increase. Only then will people be able to stand on their own feet without relying on the inevitable crutches of guarantees.

But Siddaramaiah’s government, like the Modi government, comprehends that investment means only private investment. This is reflected throughout Siddaramaiah’s budget.

The economic vision of a pro-people model of development is the need of the day. While ensuring the inevitable guarantees, the development model must envisage policy programmes that do not require guarantees.

At a recent meeting organised by a group of progressive thinkers of Karnataka, in Bengaluru, Congress minister Krishna Byre Gowda categorically denied that there is any problem in the neo-liberal corporate capitalist development model. He articulated the consolidated views of Congress thinking that it is enough to ensure minimum guarantees for those excluded from the benefits of the onward march of corporate capitalist growth.

Similarly, Praveen Chakraborty, Congress’s spokesperson and economist speaking in defence of guarantees, said that when there is no solution in our economy to cure the disease of unemployment, a painkiller called guarantee is necessary, and made it clear that even the Congress government has no cure for unemployment, which has been created by the corporate capitalist model of development.

If so, how can this be a model? Leave alone a Karnataka model?

In fact, even globally, this contradictory model of corporate capitalism with a facade of human face has slowly unveiled itself, as its crisis deepened and has gradually failed in guaranteeing minimum welfare. In fact, this model has created immense inequalities and social unrest, which has made humanity helpless and find solace in temporary and contingent promises and guarantees.

While the life span of welfarism within the aggressive corporate capitalist framework is very limited, its certain failure on the other hand would result in the swing towards right-wing and neo-fascist regimes.

Moreover, how can any pro-people model, or say a Karnataka model, be a real developmental model that does not reject the capitalist model which is causing not only ecological disaster but also has become a great threat to the future of the planet itself?

The BJP government was carrying corporate swords in both hands and attacking the people. Now the Congress government is holding a corporate sword in one hand and ointments (guarantees) in the other. This is comparatively better. But does not the constitution place before the state the responsibility and model of freeing the people completely from the onslaught of corporate capitalism?

In the debate on the Karnataka model, it may be imperative for the Congress party to assert only the positive social consequences of guarantees without discussing the failures of models different from the constitutional model. (It is a different matter that none of the parties can do anything different without changing the politics and political economy).

But those who explore the people-centric Karnataka model need not impose upon themselves such limitations.

How revolutionary was Urs’s model of land reform?

Similarly, whenever the question of the Karnataka model comes up, land reforms implemented by former chief minister Devaraj Urs – despite his limitations and the political democratisation through which he liberated the political corridor from the hegemony of the upper castes – are put forward as examples.

However, several studies have already proven that land reforms in Karnataka have not had such success. The study of noted political scientist Atul Kohli in his ‘Regime Types and Poverty Reforms in India’, which puts the land reforms in Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, and West Bengal under the deep analytical scanner, concludes that land reforms would be successful only when there are: 1) A  revolutionary land reform policy 2) A revolutionary political leadership 3) A grassroots-level mass movement.

Representative image. A farmer in Punjab. Photo: CIAT/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

His study informs that the land reforms in West Bengal were successful because they satisfied all three conditions, while in Karnataka, other than the second condition, the other two were absent, and hence not so successful. Without any of the above three, the situation in Uttar Pradesh at that time was much worse than that of Karnataka.

The land reforms of West Bengal and Kerala also had their own historical limitations. Fifty years later, should it not be necessary for those who advocate the Karnataka model to consider the limitations of Urs reforms or hail without taking the benefit of historical re-examination?

How to overcome the adverse effects of the Urs-Mandal model?

Similarly, looking back, the political empowerment of the weaker castes in Karnataka, produced by Urs’s actions even before the Mandal Revolution, was in itself a democratic advance. But can we accept it as a model without analysing why it did not lead to the political-economic empowerment of the common people of the respective communities?

On the other hand, can the 1970-90 model still be accepted as a model without analysing the way in which political-economic empowerment of the landowning Shudra castes led to the spread of anti-Dalit sentiments throughout the society, thereby consolidating neo-Brahmanism and later Hindutva too?

These land reforms and the subsequent Green Revolution and Mandal Revolution strengthened the upper strata within the Shudra castes and further weakened the Dalits and other Dalit-like helpless castes who were close to the Dalits. Isn’t this the story of India from Kilwenmani of 1967 to Khairlanji of 2006 to the present day.

Noted Scholar Anand Teltumbde has discussed this question in quite scholarly terms.

The Persistence of Caste

If so, can we forget the history of the political economy of land reform and talk about the Devaraj Urs model or the Karnataka model in 2023?

Is it possible for a model of Karnataka to emerge in the present without correcting all these fundamental shortcomings?

Why is the past history of religious harmony fading in the march of history?

Pride in the Karnataka model also includes pride in the harmonious heritage of our Karnataka society

But today neoliberalism and Hindutva fascism are not only limited to the Hindi belt but also taking root in Communist Kerala, Dravidian Tamil Nadu, Progressive Karnataka, Ambedkarite Maharashtra, and Christian North-East. The Sangh Parivar is adapting and reinterpreting, reinventing local histories to suit the needs of Hindutva according to their context.

Though there are many fundamental differences between Hindutva and Hindu religion, isn’t Hindutva blossoming from the deep cleavage from within the core of Hinduism?

Also read: How Karnataka’s Lingayat Community was First Hinduised and Then Hindutvaised

Hindu history is the savagery of caste and untouchability, as Ambedkar painfully points out. Thus, even parts of the tradition that we today claim to be progressive are easily turned Brahmanical and Hindutva-oriented by the Hindutvaists.

How, then, can tradition cure the evils of our present?

There may be normative differences in this phenomenon in Karnataka and not qualitative differences. Why are the non-Brahmin Buddhist, Jain, Lingayat, Shakta, and Bhakti traditions of our country not able to confront Brahmanical Hindutva onslaught today? How is Hindutva succeeding in claiming anti-Vedic Shramana tradition as part of Sanatana?

Though we can be proud of the harmonious heritage of Karnataka, does merely recalling a harmonious history without answering the above question bring life to that value in the present?

Traditions cannot be re-enacted itself. During feudalism, political, religious, and economic power centres emanated from a single source. Thus, even the popular rebel religions at that time were in essence economic and political revolts. When political, religious and economical become interdependent, but also relatively autonomous in modern capitalism, how can the Hindutva cultural hegemony be countered in the present?

When reforms revalidate the status quo and abort change

Ambedkar identifies Brahmanism and capitalism as enemies of the oppressed people of this country. Thus, to defeat capitalism and Brahminism, state socialism and the abolition of caste are put forward as a programme.

Shouldn’t this be a model for India and Karnataka? Apart from this, won’t other models be diversions or compromises?

Ambedkar, for instance, had opposed land reform policies on the grounds that it would strengthen the caste system in this country and not liberate Dalits. Instead, he insisted that, though he was not communist, nationalisation of land and community farming should be implemented along the lines of Revolutionary Russia.

If so, shouldn’t the question be discussed as to what should be the model of Karnataka among Devaraj Urs’s reform and Ambedkar’s revolutionary transformation?

Is it possible to save the Constitution without developing it?

Most importantly, even though Ambedkar himself was the chairman of the Drafting Committee of the Constitution, and the Preamble of the Constitution reflected the ideals of social justice and equality, the eradication of capitalism and the annihilation of the caste system were not included in the key parts of the Constitution…

Isn’t that a limitation of our freedom and the constitution?  Isn’t it the source of corporate fascism in this country? Instead, the constitution gives the state only the power to regulate the inhuman expressions of capitalism and caste.

Looking back, doesn’t it mean that the historically celebrated models of different hues have essentially failed to realise the aspirations of the constitution? Does it not, therefore, mean that these models, in essence, have failed to eradicate the survival and growth of capitalist and Brahmanical forces? Can it be said that instead they have only changed their form and been helped them in growing stronger?

In a sense, in the last 75 years, political democracy, that has been in practice in this country itself has been destroying social democracy and the possibility of economic democracy. Therefore, it is from this very crevice of our constitution that Brahmanical Hindutva and the genocidal corporate capitalist Hindutva fascism has emerged and are constitutionally engulfing the country.

Can any model of change defeat fascism without being revolutionary enough to remove the imperfections of the constitution?

The problem of Hindutva hegemony over non-BJP models 

Equally important is the fact that Hindutva fascism is growing today due to the hegemony of neoliberalism and Brahmanical Hindutva over  all opposition parties, including the Congress. And due to this  hasn’t electoral democracy become a tool to renew and revalidate Hindutva fascism?

Shouldn’t the patterns of a path for change also be different from the patterns followed so far?

Finally, if the ideals of equal share and equality for all are to be achieved in the fight against today’s global economy and all-pervading Hindutva, can it be done in one state, one country, one community, one model?

Without taking up for discussion such similar questions and solutions, is it not problematic to discuss and debate the Karnataka model?

Shivasundar is an activist and a freelance journalist based in Bangalore.