Understanding 'BJP-Mukt Karnataka' from the North-South Perspective

Basavaraj Bommai getting voted out of Karnataka after BJP’s devastating defeat is a reaffirmation that people want governance based on an inclusive vision.

Union home minister Amit Shah and other top Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders repeated ad nauseam after 2014 that they wanted a “Congress mukt Bharat”, and appealed to people not to vote for it in both state and general elections. Each defeat the Congress party suffered in assembly elections in some state or other was described by Shah as a step towards Congress mukt Bharat. Of late of course, Amit Shah hardly talks of Congress mukt Bharat. 

South India is BJP mukt

While a Congress mukt Bharat seems to be a distant goal for him and his party leaders, now, to their utter dismay, the only BJP government in south India, in Karnataka, suffered a massive electoral drubbing in the recent elections.  

The entire southern part of the country consisting of Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala is now BJP mukt. While Congress won 136 seats out of 224 in Karnataka with a huge vote share of 43.8%, BJP remained a distant second with 66 seats and a 35% vote share. 

Karnataka was considered as a crucial state for the BJP as it formed the gateway for the party to expand its base in southern states. It is well known that the BJP has a firm base in the northern states, where it runs the government in states like Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Uttarakhand.  

Therefore, Karnataka’s loss is a huge jolt to its top leadership represented by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Shah who relentlessly employed all kinds of strategies to win one state after another in large parts of the country, establish the electoral sway of the BJP and march towards achieving their self proclaimed goal of a “Congress mukt Bharat”. 

Referring to BJP’s comprehensive defeat in Karnataka, eminent historian and writer Ram Guha in an interview with Karan Thapar for The Wire asserted that it was a defeat not only for the party but also for Modi and Shah. 

He said so because both of them campaigned across the state and during the last ten days of the high-pitch electioneering, Modi stationed himself in Karnataka, organised mega road shows, equated lord Hanuman with Bajrang Dal, raised a religious slogan Jai Bajrang Bali, and appealed voters to cast their votes by reciting the same slogan. 

Modi did so in response to the Congress manifesto, which said action would be taken against the Bajrang Dal if it was found to be involved in spreading hatred. Guha was flagging the point that Modi’s conduct to raise a religious slogan aimed at dividing people in the name of faith and it certainly infringed the law forbidding political parties and its leaders from seeking votes in the name of religion. 

More importantly, Guha made an interesting point when he looked at the victory of the Congress from the perspective of south vs north and said, “It is striking that the whole of South India is BJP-mukt.” He then emphasised, “A large part of our  country, that is the most economically dynamic, the most socially progressive, much less communal, much less patriarchal, much more open to scientific research, innovation and entrepreneurship is completely outside the realm of  BJP.”  

Also read: Ten Factors to Remember Amidst the Congress’s Win and BJP’s Defeat in Karnataka

Ambedkar on Northern and Southern India 

This north-south perspective employed to understand the massive Congress victory in Karnataka and BJP’s crushing defeat, despite ruling in several northern states, is instructive. 

In almost all parameters of economic, human development and scientific advancement, the BJP-ruled states are far behind the southern states. What Ram Guha said is evocative of the words of Dr B.R. Ambedkar who in his book Thoughts on Linguistic States published in 1955, wrote, “There is a vast difference between the North and the South. The North is conservative. The South is progressive. The North is superstitious, the South is rational. The South is educationally forward, the North is educationally backward. The culture of the South is modern. The culture of the North is ancient”.

Gandhi on South Free From Misdoings in North 

It would be worthwhile to focus attention on Gandhi’s speech delivered at a Citizens’ Meeting in Bangalore (now Bengaluru) on August 28, 1927. The words he spoke on that occasion, “You have no Hindu-Muslim quarrels. You are unaffected by the misdoings in the North” also flagged the north-south perspective through which he appreciated the culture of coexistence untainted by communal strife, unlike northern India. 

In underlining the point that Bangalore in 1927 was free from the “misdoings in the North”  Gandhi was noting that the failures and shortcomings abounding in northern India did not plague Karnataka and by implication the whole of South India. 

Also read: A Vote Against ‘40% Commission’, ‘Double Engine Sarkar’ and the Politics of Hindutva

Bommai wanted Yogi model in Karnataka 

People noted with shock when Karnataka chief minister and BJP leader Basava Bommai said that he would adopt his Uttar Pradesh counterpart Yogi Adityanth’s model to deal with communal elements if required.

He was saying so after BJP  workers protested against the murder of their party’s youth worker Praveen Nettaru. An Indian Express report quoted BJP workers who said that the ‘Yogi model referred to the strong measures reportedly taken by the UP chief minister to control ‘anti-national’ activities in the state, like the use of bulldozers. 

It is well documented that bulldozers are being employed largely by BJP regimes in some states against minorities, especially Muslims, whose houses have been demolished just because their names figured in the list of accused in some cases or they protested against the BJP governments. 

Recurring communal polarisation targeting minorities is largely absent in south India and is being peddled in several northern states by Hindutva forces. The use of bulldozers remains a key strategy in implementing and carrying forward this divisive process. If this problem is part of, in Gandhi’s words, the “misdoings of the North”, then Bommai being the chief minister of a southern state expressed his intent to implement it in Karnataka where such a strategy was never adopted by any political regime. 

Basavaraj Bommai. In the background are two Muslim girls in hijab. Photos: Twitter/@BSBommai and Ryan/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Yogi did not want UP to Become Kerala 

In February 2022 Adityanath, while campaigning in elections for the state assembly, warned the electorate that five years of his tenure would go waste if people failed to bring him and the BJP back to power and that UP would become like Kerala, Bengal or Kashmir.

Instructively Kerala, Bengal and Kashmir have better human development indices than UP and so Adityanath’s claim that UP would become like Kerala in case BJP suffered defeat in the State was countered by Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan by tweeting,  “If UP turns into Kerala as @myogiadityanath fears, it will enjoy the best education, health services, social welfare, living standards and have a harmonious society in which people won’t be murdered in the name of religion and caste. That is what people of UP would want.”

Kerala opposition leader and senior Congress legislator V.D. Satheesan took on Adityanath by tweeting, “Dear UP, vote to be like Kerala. Choose plurality, harmony. Inclusive development to medieval bigotry. Keralites, Bengalis and Kashmiris are also proud Indians.”

With Bommai getting voted out of Karnataka, the Yogi model has been rejected by the people thereby affirming that they want governance based on an inclusive vision.  

Implications of Congress victory in Karnataka

Therefore, an inference can be made from Congress’s resounding victory and BJP’s humiliating defeat in Karnataka that it is a victory for certain progressive values which Ambedkar had underlined while giving perspectives on north and south India and stating that the latter was ahead of the former in all fields. 

One of the indicators of progressive development in any society is the declining trend of population growth. Such a decline can be attributed to the spread of education among all, especially among girls and women, relatively better standards of living, measures adopted for women’s empowerment and access to healthcare facilities. 

While India’s population started increasing in the year 1921, described as the year of the demographic divide, the fertility rate has declined considerably during these hundred years. The southern states have registered much faster progress in this respect as compared to their northern counterparts. 

Such advancement of the southern states has put them in a disadvantageous position vis-a-vis northern states as observed by Justices Kirubakaran and Pugalendhi of Madras High Court in 2021 “that southern states with less population, instead, of being rewarded, are witnessing reduction of their seats in the Lok Sabha”.

The two justices, in their order, observed, “Though in democracy one person one vote is the basis, the states which could not control population like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, and Madhya Pradesh would have more representation in Parliament, whereas the southern states, which controlled population would get lesser number of constituencies, thereby lowering their political power.” 

The Congress’s victory in Karnataka should be seen from the perspective of the southern states which advocate for equal treatment in relation to the North. 

S N Sahu served as Officer on Special Duty to President of India K R Narayanan