Worry for NDA as Modi-Shah Duo no Longer Unassailable: Congress-JD(S) Victory in Karnataka Galvanises Opposition

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The contest in Karnataka, the BJP apparently thought that a barnstorming campaign by Modi would be enough to enable the party to sail through. That it nevertheless had slight doubts about the efficacy of Modi’s appeal was evident from the raising of his number of rallies from 15 t0 21. But the fact remains that none of it worked as the Congress raised its vote share from 36.6 percent in 2013 to 38 this time, while the BJP’s declined from 36.2 percent from a high of 43.4 in 2014. Here’s a report, for Different Truths. 

What the Karnataka election has shown is that neither Narendra Modi’s oratory nor Amit Shah’s organisational micromanagement is enough at a time of an ebbing tide for the BJP. The exposure of the inadequacies of these two seemingly invulnerable weapons cannot but be of concern to the party when it faces three more crucial assembly elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.

Before the contest in Karnataka, the BJP apparently thought that a barnstorming campaign by Modi would be enough to enable the party to sail through. That it nevertheless had slight doubts about the efficacy of Modi’s appeal was evident from the raising of his number of rallies from 15 t0 21.

The prime minister’s speeches also had all the spicy masala which he thought were indispensable for berating the Congress – sleaze and its naamdaar (dynastic) tradition – along with a few mistaken allusions to its alleged disrespect for Bhagat Singh and Batukeshwar Dutt while the prime minister congratulated himself on his own kaamdaar (worker) credentials.

But the fact remains that none of it worked as the Congress raised its vote share from 36.6 percent in 2013 to 38 this time, while the BJP’s declined from 36.2 percent from a high of 43.4 in 2014.

In Gujarat, too, Modi had thrown himself into the campaign with considerable gusto when the BJP realised that the Congress was no longer quite the pushover as it had hitherto been in the state. His desire to stop the Congress in its tracks was so great that he went to the extreme of accusing former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, former vice-president Hamid Ansari and a former army chief, Deepak Kapoor, of conspiring with Pakistan. The charges may have enabled the BJP to win, but its tally of seats fell to 99 from 115 in 2012.

Gujarat was the first sign of the dimming of Modi’s appeal along with several others such as the BJP’s by-election defeats in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and U.P. Now Karnataka has confirmed these disquieting trends for the party. These are all the more worrisome because it is clear that the BJP has no fall-back option since the prime minister and the party president have concentrated all the powers in their hands.

They have not only shunted out the elderly generation — LK Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi — to retirement homes but have also reduced all the others in the government and the party to virtual nonentities, totally dependent on Modi and Amit Shah for even a modicum of influence. The party has also kept former luminaries like Yashwant Sinha, Shatrughan Sinha and Arun Shourie at arm’s length because they do not automatically endorse what Modi and Amit Shah said.

True, nearly all Indian parties are essentially one- or two-person shows whether it is the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty in the Congress or Mamata Banerjee in Trinamool Congress or Mayawati in Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) or Sharad Pawar in the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).

But none of them harbours the intention, as the BJP does, of making the nation conform to a particular ideology by eliminating all traces of an earlier ruling party – a Congress-mukt Bharat – as a prelude to ending 1,200 years of “slavery” under the Muslim and British rulers.

Nor does any party other than the BJP accuse a citizen of being anti-national/anti-Hindu if he or she does not chant “Bharat Mata ki Jai” or choose to eat beef. The latter offence can even lead to a person being killed.

As a part of these mammoth exercises, the BJP is engaged in rewriting history textbooks and planting its own apparatchiki in all supposedly autonomous institutions such as the Indian Council of Historical Research or the Indian Council of Social Science Research and so on.

Arguably, Karnataka may have thrown a spanner in the works of the Hindutva brigade because of the realization among the BJP’s opponents that the only way to stop the saffron outfit is by unifying against it. The scene is not unlike what it was at the time of the Congress’s dominance when an anti-Congress front was the objective of all opponents of the Grand Old Party of Independence.

Now, the preparations are on for constituting a similar anti-BJP front. This task has already been achieved in U.P. with the Samajwadi Party and the BSP coming together and defeating the BJP in the Gorakhpur and Phulpur by-elections. The Samajwadi Party and the Rashtriya Lok Dal have also joined hands against the BJP for the forthcoming Kairana and Noorpur by-elections.

In Karnataka, the Janata Dal (Secular)-Congress combine is yet another group which can be a template for a similar combine at the national level. But the task will not be easy for two reasons. One is the ego hassles between the different regional parties, especially on the question of who will be the leader. And the other is the BJP’s enormous resources and official clout which it is not shy of using to persuade or intimidate those opposed to it to come over to its side. The game of thrones can be said to have just begun.

Amulya Ganguli
©IPA Service 

Photo from the Internet