Ten Factors to Remember Amidst the Congress’s Win and BJP's Defeat in Karnataka

The Congress has trumped the BJP in a win reminiscent of Delhi in 2015 and West Bengal in 2020 – when the Modi-Shah heat was pushed right back by single parties. But it is not as if all is well suddenly with democracy in India. 

1. The Congress’s convincing win in the Karnataka elections does not ‘prove’ the good health of Indian democracy just as the fact that most states across the country are ruled by the opposition does not take away from the unfair practices that have been institutionalised in an authoritarian manner under Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The Karnataka victory is all the more creditable given the conditions under which it was secured and captures the immense anger expressed by the people of the state.

2. The use of the Enforcement Directorate, Central Bureau of Investigation, Income Tax Department and other central agencies to target people associated with the opposition continued unabated during the election campaign, hitting a higher crescendo during the last few days before polling.

If what is being reported is true, it seems that the next CBI director has been picked in a way that is less than transparent, upending the bipartisan principle and evoking past instances of how persons chosen for sensitive posts have ended up subverting institutions and democracy. The ED director’s appointment and unprecedented extensions are a case in point.

3. The Election Commission ignored complaints made by the Congress and others against many statements and actions of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, displaying a bias that could have made things trickier in a closer contest. There has been no comment or notice from the EC so far on Modi’s unequivocal exhortation to voters to use a religious invocation, Jai Bajrang Bali, while casting their vote. The Congress said the call was a violation of election law but the EC has remained silent on this, even as it issued notice to the Congress for a comment about Karnataka’s sovereignty that Sonia Gandhi never even made.

4. The BJP was able to once again deploy funds collected through anonymous electoral bonds – even as the Supreme Court continues to postpone hearing petitions challenging the constitutionality of  this kind of opaque political financing. This means that the Karnataka elections were certainly not fair and free. They cost a lot; the win of relatively less well-off candidates was an exception, though Bellary’s B. Nagendra beating a mining baron Bellary brother, BJP’s B. Sreeramulu is commendable.

Also read: Karnataka Shows that The Road to Delhi Passes Through States

5. The corporate-owned big national media continued to act as a propaganda arm of the BJP as Modi expended massive state resources for thinly-veiled official visits just before the imposition of the MCC. Read The Wire’s report on the prime minister’s inauguration-cum-campaigning visits which call for scrutiny.

6. The BJP’s campaign and Modi’s speeches were rabidly communal and vitriolic, from claiming that the Congress party was working with the terrorists, to Amit Shah saying there would be riots if Congress won. The BJP launched its campaign with an election-eve decision to abolish the 4% quota for Muslims – a move the Supreme Court stayed. Asking the voters to shout ‘Jai Bajrang Bali’ after pressing the EVM button was not the only case. Modi also enlisted the help of a polarising propaganda film, The Kerala Story, to appeal to Hindu voters. The ‘face’ of B.S. Bommai was only a fig leaf to what was predominantly an out and out Hindutva campaign.

7. Modi and Shah – the prime minister and Union home minister – ignored the massive (ongoing) violence in Manipur where more than 60 people officially lost their lives and over 35,000 people were rendered homeless because they were busy campaigning for elections. This happened as the two leaders were reading paeans on the importance of a ‘double engine Sarkar’ in Karnataka and staking claim on ‘law and order’. similarly, five Special Forces personnel of the Indian Army lost their lives to militancy in Jammu and Kashmir during this period but their deaths went unacknowledged from Modi who was busy with the Karnataka campaign.

8. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi was thrown out of the Lok Sabha after a very dubious legal case by a Gujarat court, which was urgently acted upon by the Lok Sabha Speaker, in a questionable fashion, both in terms of process and form. The aim was clearly to demoralise the Congress party at the start of the campaign, a strategy which clearly backfired.

Watch: Ramachandra Guha On What The Karnataka Election Results Mean

9. Modi’s silence on the Adani corruption issue continued unabated during the campaign, which provided the backdrop and direct link between the ‘40% Sarkara’ moniker for the BJP state government and the Union government. As former governor Satya Pal Malik said in a widely viewed interview to The Wire, “Modi does not particularly hate corruption.”

10. In the run up to the election, the BJP government at the state and Union levels tried its best to intimidate civil society voices by filing frivolous cases and other forms of vindictive action. A case in point was the arrest of the actor Chetan Kumar for his social media post criticising Hindutva and the decision to cancel his Overseas Citizen of India card.