Watching the end of the drama in the Karnataka Assembly, I had a sense of déjà vu. Hadn’t we seen this same picture last year, the same flashing V-for-victory signs by some, the same slinking out in silence by others? Now, yet again, one set of actors have exited the stage and another troupe is preparing to step in. But the same play goes on. Will it make any difference to the voters?
Since this battle between the ruling parties and the Opposition began, and the “rebels” retreated to a place where they could not be reached, it has been clear that this is a coup, a well-planned and well-executed coup, perhaps part of a Great Plan. The coup has accomplished what it set out to do: The fall of the Congress-JDS coalition government. Karnataka is no stranger to the toppling of governments. In fact, only three chief ministers have completed their five years in office. Each time this tussle for power happens, all parties bandy the word “democracy”, they speak of the will of the people. Each time there are “rebels” who are pawns in the game of toppling, pawns who are in it for what they can get. In fact, the word “rebel” is a total misnomer. Rebels fight for a cause, they suffer for their cause. Whereas, these “rebels” safely ensconced themselves in a luxury hotel with the local government acting as their guardian angel. No army of medieval times living in a heavily guarded fortress could have been more secure. And when they came to Bengaluru to hand in their resignations, they came on a chartered flight. Who paid for all these things? Perhaps the more fitting word for these men is “turncoats”.
In the last few days, the people of Karnataka have witnessed the most unedifying spectacle of thoroughly unprincipled behaviour by all politicians. This is not new. Each time it happens we think, this is the worst, they can’t go lower than this. But they do. Horse trading is another word being much used. Horse traders, I am sure, were more honourable men; they were open about their profession, they did not claim that what they were doing was for the good of the people. And it is unfair to bring horses into this ugly game: Horses are beautiful, noble animals. They don’t cheat, they run their hearts out for the men and women who ride them.
In his brilliant short story, ‘A Piece of the Wall’, Kannada writer Bolwar Mahammad Kunhi has a poor old woman worshipping the then-chief minister Devaraj Urs as a god, because it was during his tenure that she got a piece of land. God he certainly was not, but he was responsible for a number of reforms, including land reforms which benefited the poor. There have been chief ministers like K Hanumanthaiah, S Nijalingappa, Veerendra Patil and Ramakrishna Hegde who brought dignity to the post of chief minister. After Hegde,
S M Krishna’s government was the only one which gave the people a sense of a government that worked. Since then, it has only been a tussle for power, either within the ruling party, or with the Opposition party. The last few years have been the most dismal. Almost nothing has been done. While the government was fire-fighting, the opposition gloating, and the rebels in their safe space, the people of Bengaluru went to work as usual, braving the terrible chaotic traffic, negotiating through pothole-pitted roads. It is no longer a city in which it is a pleasure to live. Garbage piles up on roads, five-star hospitals and posh residential schools are mushrooming. And the middle-class and the poor struggle to give their children a reasonably-priced education, or to get good medical care without bankrupting themselves. And this is Bengaluru, the capital of Karnataka, the richest city in the state. What can one say about the rest of the state? Recently, a meeting was held in the city’s Freedom Park, to express total disgust at the politicians in the state, where a novel, if rather crude way of showing contempt for politicians was adopted. Yet, amazingly, politicians seem to be totally oblivious to voters’ feelings. H D Kumaraswamy, after he was defeated, spoke of continuing to work for the poor, Yediyurappa called it a victory for democracy. Whom are they fooling? Dystopia, we now know, is not tomorrow, or in the distant future; it is now, here, today.
This is a shameful time for the people of Karnataka. We, the voters, are ashamed. After all, we voted these people into power. But what choice did we have? The main problem is: How do we punish those who changed sides for money? How do we make sure the brazenly corrupt find no place in politics? How do we channel our anger, our despair into something that will make an impact on the system, since politicians have shown themselves to be as thick-skinned as buffaloes? All that people ask for is good honest governance. This seems to have become the lowest priority in a politician’s agenda. How do we fight them? Or have we become so blasé, so cynical, that we accept things the way they are?
In After Blenheim, a poem by Robert Southey, an old man tells his grandson that a famous battle was fought on the ground where they now live. Why was the battle fought? I don’t know, he tells the child, but they say it was a famous victory.
Victory, or what kind of victory, we have to wait and see. The drama is not yet over; there is still another act, or perhaps more than one to follow. If it is a victory, it will be an infamous, rather than a famous one. But for us, the voters, the question remains: Whom do we vote for in the next elections?
Deshpande is a Bengaluru-based writer