How does the Karnataka verdict impact the build up to 2019? Related to this question is another – after this result, will Prime Minister Narendra Modi consider advancing the Lok Sabha polls and hold it along with those in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Mizoram?
Another very important set of questions emerge from today’s results: How will future historians look at these elections within the framework of the sangh parivar‘s efforts to convert India into a Hindu state? For those whose lingua franca has been ‘Modified’, this question, however, will be posed differently – has the verdict in any way hastened the pace of achieving the BJP’s objective of a ‘Congress Mukt Bharat’?
On Tuesday morning, when trends from postal ballots inexplicably began flashing on news channels and were showing the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) heading for a clear majority, it appeared this verdict was already a decisive step in formation of a Hindu state. As an aside, let it be reiterated that according to the sangh parivar, India is already a Hindu nation or Hindu rashtra, all that is required is a political superstructure to take care of the ‘heretics’!
Regardless of the setback to the BJP in the event of the Janata Dal (Secular) and Congress doing a Goa on it and forming the government, the Karnataka match is more or less a match which ended in a draw with the BJP drawing a greater amount of long-term advantage.
The positives for the BJP are that when campaigning began in Karnataka, the Congress had a clear advantage and was considered the favourite with no evidence of anti-incumbency against the Siddaramaiah government. As reflection of this sentiment, the Congress retained the vote share it had in 2013. Despite this, the BJP took the lead and ended as the single-largest party with a vote share less two percentage more than the Congress’ portion.
Indisputably, the BJP has reopened its southern gateway and in the event of the JD(S)-Congress forming a government, the party will make every effort to destabilise it to publicise among people the perils of ‘khichdi sarkar‘. And, if it eventually does manage to form its government with assistance from the governor, the opportunity will be utilised to prise open Southern India.
It is important to deconstruct the process of Congress’ ‘meltdown’ from the position of strength to where it eventually ended up – losing the mandate. One argument would be that Siddaramaiah’s welfare schemes did not click. But the fact that the Congress vote share has remained almost at par at the 2013 level demonstrates that this is not the case.
In fact, as per the trend in most parliamentary elections when the vote share of smaller regional parties decline and that of national parties, rise, in 2014, the Congress vote share although more than 2% lower than the BJP’s share which stood at 43%, was higher than the Congress portion in 2013. This does not suggest that people were either unhappy with the state government or that its message was not delivered forcefully.
The BJP victory is not a mandate for vikas or development. Rather, this is a latent Hindu vote coupled with Modi’s personal campaign which still attracts people, especially the youth. Take into account, for instance, the BJP’s performance in the north-central belt or what is also labelled as the Lingayat-intensive stretch. Of the 62 seats in this region, the BJP had scored in 37, an increase of 26 seats over 2013. In contrast, the Congress, with 20 seats, suffered a loss of 19.
This indicates that perhaps the declaration of according minority status to the Lingayats backfired. This has possibly to do with the desire of the community to remain part of the ‘Hindu whole’ at a time when resurgent Hindutva looms large on the horizon. In such a situation, it is better to be part of the majority than risk one’s security by becoming a ‘minority’.
Similarly, the Hindutva card worked to BJP’s advantage in 23 high Muslim seats. Surprisingly, the BJP scored in 10 of these, a gain of eight seats while the Congress with 11 seats, suffered a loss of three. The JD(S) also won two seats but suffered a loss in one. It is not that Muslims turned out in overwhelming numbers to vote for the BJP. Instead, what worked to BJP’s advantage was the phenomenon called reverse polarisation–the Hindu vote was mobilised by raising fears that the ‘other’ was uniting to keep the ‘Hindu representative’ out.
In fact, with conversation now veering to the necessity of opposition unity, even cutting across regional and ideological lines, the BJP will possibly use the similar strategy. The label of pseudo-secularism has been used effectively in the past to depict its adversaries. The phrase was a straight lift from V.D Savarkar’s term – pseudo-nationalists for the Congress in the late 1930s and early 1940s.
Any effort to cobble an anti-BJP front will be countered in the style the Congress under Indira Gandhi did in 1980, by running down the idea of coalitions. Additionally, whenever opposition parties publicise the vision of inclusive India, it will be used to whip up Hindu passion, tacitly or even explicitly as the situation demands.
The Modi-Shah duo is unlike the core credo of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh which often gets bogged down in moral morass. In contrast, the two bosses are more in the mould of Savarkar who was unabashed about being engaged with “practical politics” and to achieve his objective he had no qualms in making anyone, save an ideological adversary, his ally.
If one clinically deconstructs the Modi years so far, Hindutva-centric policies have been cleverly alternated with egalitarian declarations and marginal financial reforms. While the cow-beef-temple-love jihad-triple talaq set of issues has never been a constant drone, the din over this has never completely subsided.
The best example of this is in Uttar Pradesh where the rabble-rousing chief minister Adityanath also mouths development spiel. His use in elections, including in Karnataka’s communally sensitive regions, is a dead giveaway of what the BJP will do in the run-up to 2019.
This should provide the basic answer to questions raised in the beginning of this article. This makes the possibility of an early Lok Sabha poll rather remote because Modi would like as much time as is legally available to mount a solid campaign.
The Karnataka verdict has provided the BJP with a clear framework to approach the next hustings. Future historians will undeniably describe this election as a key moment in the context of efforts to transform India into a Hindu state.
Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay is a Delhi-based writer and journalist, and the author of Narendra Modi: The Man, The Times and Sikhs: The Untold Agony of 1984. He tweets @NilanjanUdwin.