Friday, Jun 02, 2023

Amrith Lal writes: Why BJP double-engine derailed in Karnataka

BJP central leadership's attempt to plug in the state party to its national grid, where energy is generated from anti-Muslim agendas and hyper-nationalism, seems not to have appealed to Karnataka voter

fbxfThe result in Karnataka may well reverberate beyond the state and the South. (Express photo by Jithendra M)
Listen to this article
Amrith Lal writes: Why BJP double-engine derailed in Karnataka
1x 1.5x 1.8x

Karnataka has voted decisively for the Congress, after a decade. In 2013, it won 122 seats with a 36 per cent vote. Trends suggest that the party is likely to win 136 seats, more than double the BJP’s tally, and around 43 per cent vote. The BJP performed below par across the state, including in its strongholds such as the capital city of Bengaluru, despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi leading the campaign. PM Modi had given a personal tone to the campaign, framing the election as a vote for a double-engine sarkar. He also gave it a polarising spin, particularly in the last lap, by invoking Bajrang Bali. The gambit failed. The electorate preferred the Congress’s promise of welfare and its endorsement of secularism: The Congress manifesto had borrowed the great poet Kuvempu’s famous line, Sarva janangada shanthiya thota (the garden where all communities live in peace), as its credo. Hence, it is tempting to agree with Rahul Gandhi’s remark that “Karnataka mein nafrat ka bazaar band hua hai aur mohabbat ki dukan khuli hai”. It is also true that the Bharat Jodo Yatra, which he led, passed through the length of Karnataka, and the Congress has done remarkably well in these areas.

There is a lesson or two for the BJP in this election result. The party may see Karnataka as its gateway to southern India, but the state is far from becoming a BJP citadel. The party’s rise in the state in the 1990s happened in exceptional circumstances, when the Janata Dal, the primary anti-Congress political formation in the state, imploded. The BJP stepped into this vacuum. This is a scenario that did not develop in other southern states. The anti-Congress political space in these states got occupied by the communists, regional parties and breakaway groups of the Congress — the Dravidian parties in Tamil Nadu, Telugu Desam (later YSR Congress and BRS) in Andhra Pradesh-Telangana, and the CPM. The BJP’s rise was also helped by its adoption by the Lingayats, a powerful community that once backed the Congress, contributed many chief ministers, and got estranged from the Congress in the early 1980s. B S Yediyurappa, a Lingayat himself, built the BJP with the Lingayat community as its core vote. Under his leadership, the BJP appealed to the communitarian character of Lingayat society, offering state patronage to the mathas and the vast institutional welfare network they maintain. There were multiple communal mobilisations in the 1990s and after, but they were hardly comparable to the Ramjanmabhoomi movement. In short, the BJP under Yediyurappa pitched itself as a communitarian Hindu outfit that promised itself as an alternative to the Congress. It succeeded to some extent.

However, in recent years, the BJP has been trying to transform itself from a matha party to a hardline Hindutva outfit. The response to this attempt by the party’s central leadership to plug in the state BJP to its national grid, where energy is generated from anti-Muslim agendas and hyper-nationalism, seems not to have appealed so much to the Kannadiga. The undercurrent of Kannada subnationalism, which has seen a new life under Siddaramaiah, also acts as a bulwark against the polarising Hindu-Hindi-Hindutva agenda of the post 2014 BJP. The fact is the southern states are subnationalities where the subnational identity — Tamil, Kannadiga, Malayali, Telugu — sits comfortably with the Indian identity. Multiple identities — regional (which is essentially linguistic), national, caste, religious — coexist more or less without any contradiction. Any demand to privilege the national or the religious identity over the regional or caste identity could create conflict and extract a political cost. The new BJP leadership seems to believe that its Hindutva pitch can subsume the regional and caste identities under the rubric of a faith-centric hypernationalism. The central BJP leadership’s attempt to brush aside Lingayat concerns in preference of a new state leadership, ironically many of them Brahmins, has also been against the current of social engineering that has been underway in Karnataka since the 1970s, which has decisively been in favour of empowering non-upper castes.

Karnataka has a long history of caste empowerment that dates back to the introduction of caste-based reservation in the Mysore kingdom in 1918. The ambit of caste quotas widened post Independence, like in the neighbouring Madras state. If Periyar E V Ramaswami’s Self Respect politics provided the ideological ground for social justice politics in Madras state, it was Rammanohar Lohia’s formulations that found resonance in Karnataka. The socialist politics that emerged under the charismatic Shantaveri Gopala Gowda, whose birth centenary was in March this year, had a deep impact on the social life of the state. The socialists were electorally successful but they were a major influence on peasant politics and Kannada literature. Writers such as Gopalakrishna Adiga, U R Ananthamurthy, P Lankesh, Sreekrishna Alanahalli, Devanuru Mahadeva were influenced by Lohia’s ideas and Gopala Gowda’s mobilisations.

Ananthamurthy’s novel Avasthe is based on the life of Gopala Gowda. Leaders like J H Patel and peasant leaders like Nanjundaswamy were also the product of socialist politics. This politics of ideas remains a major ideological presence, along with the radical Dalit politics of 1970s and 80s, in the Kannada civil society.

The 1970s also saw a reconfiguration of non-Congress politics in Karnataka. Congress leader Devaraj Urs adapted the social justice agenda of Lohia socialists to craft the AHINDA (minorities, Dalits, tribals, OBCs) strategy. Gopala Gowda’s premature death in 1972 was a major loss for the socialist movement, which further lost its identity when it merged into the Janata Party along with the Congress-O. Later, the socialists joined Urs when he floated the Karnataka Kranti Ranga. This party, under the leadership of Bangarappa, was part of the Janata government in 1983. Thereafter, old Congress-O leaders such as Ramakrishna Hegde and Deve Gowda have dominated the Janata, and thereby anti-Congress, politics while socialists became a part of the Congress ecosystem. Siddaramaiah is a representative face of this Lohia legacy in the Congress.

This ideological stream and the Urs legacy have influenced the Congress to position itself firmly as a proponent of social justice politics in Karnataka. The willingness to take communal politics head on — the manifesto said it would crack down on the Bajrang Dal in the event of any violent action — could also be attributed to the radical traditions within the Congress. This “local” character has helped the Congress to champion Kannada subnationalism – remember the Nandini controversy — and call out the Bajrang Dal.

Also Read
Wrestlers protest, brij bhushan sharan singh, vinesh phogat, Sakshi malik
GDP data, GDP consumption data
PM Modi Sengol
Wrestlers protest, delhi wrestlers protest

What does the Karnataka outcome mean for the BJP? It has resulted in a BJP-mukt South India, of course. The party can analyse the result as a federal push against a domineering party/Centre wanting to impose a unitarian agenda and course correct. And, of course, the party can ignore the Karnataka debacle as inconsequential for its national plans since a sweep of northern and western India can still fetch the BJP a simple majority in Parliament: Of the BJP’s 303 seats in the Lok Sabha, only 30 are from South India, which sends 130 MPs to the lower house. However, the result in Karnataka may well reverberate beyond the state and the South.

First published on: 13-05-2023 at 19:18 IST
Latest Comment
Post Comment
Read Comments