If the Karnataka election campaign was a rehearsal for 2019, India has quite simply had it. For the foreseeable future, we will remain a big, bumbling behemoth of a country led by little men. The narrative of the campaign to win Karnataka would shame schoolboys contesting to become head boy. It went like this. You did nothing in four years. You did nothing in 70. You tell lies. You tell lies. You make personal attacks. No, you make personal attacks. You are corrupt. No, it’s you who are corrupt.
If leaders can talk this way, their spokespersons inevitably lower the tone further. So from the BJP, we had a TV studio politician spend half an hour discussing a watch supposedly given by a huckster to the Chief Minister of Karnataka. By the time he finished his diatribe, it sounded like a promotion for Hublot.
Incidentally, if he examined the wrists of some of his partymen he might discover many watches worth at least Rs 40 lakh. The Congress party rolled out a loyalist who exulted on nationwide television that their Chief Minister had left the BJP “gasping” when he gave special status to the Lingayat community. Whenever caste and creed infect an election narrative you can be sure that it is short of real ideas.
If this election has seen the rise of Rahul Gandhi and the return of his Mummy, the Prime Minister has only himself to blame. Instead of taking India in a new direction, as he promised, he has strayed hardly at all from the Congress path that has kept India mired in desperate poverty while countries once behind us have raced ahead. There was one brief moment 20 years ago when P V Narasimha Rao moved away from povertarian economics and it was then that we saw the creation of a middle class in India for the first time. It is to the credit of Atal Bihari Vajpayee that he continued along this route and for a while, India saw the burgeoning of an economic boom. Then came Sonia Gandhi’s decade in power during which she returned to an economic policy that basically made politicians very rich and kept most Indians very poor.
So when Modi promised prosperity and not just ‘anti-poverty’ programmes, all of India voted for him forgetting momentarily that they were Lingayat or Vokkaliga, Dalit or Brahmin. The fact that most discussions of the Karnataka elections centre around caste divisions should shame the Prime Minister. It should also shame him that he has speechwriters with such limited knowledge of basic history that they conjured up insults to Generals that did not happen, and insults to heroes like Bhagat Singh that never happened either.
Speaking of insults, Narendra Modi needs to be more careful when he insults Jawaharlal Nehru. Even as someone who has often criticised his economic policies in this column and attacked him for not investing in primary education and healthcare, I never forget that he was a political giant. It was an era of political giants and it began to die when Nehru’s daughter created the idea of hereditary democracy. Once she handed our oldest political party to her son, who went on to win the biggest mandate in the history of the Lok Sabha, other political leaders followed and the diminishment of Parliament began.
It is to Modi’s credit that he has tried to stem this rot, but he has not been firm enough, so most of his partymen continue to try to hand their constituencies on to their progeny as if they were heirlooms. Electability is the excuse they all give without noticing that criminals are very electable too, so should we fill the Lok Sabha with them?
In Karnataka, we detected the first signs of nervousness in the Prime Minister’s speeches and those made by his closest comrade, Amit Shah. Could it be that they have begun to notice that Hindutva has eroded the so-called Hindu vote rather than strengthen it? Could it be that they have noticed that following in the footsteps of the party they revile has led to economic stagnation rather than growth? Could it be that they have noticed that the man they mocked as ‘Shahzada’ is now challenging Modi personally?
If they have noticed these things, it is too late to alter course because pathetic and hopeless though the campaign in Karnataka has been, there is little doubt that we have seen a dress rehearsal for the general election. The voters of India will be offered a choice that is really no choice at all. The Congress party offers them no more than business as usual and the BJP without that promise of ‘parivartan’ and ‘vikas’ offers us only a Hindutva version of business as usual. Whoever wins Karnataka next week, what is absolutely clear is that once more India has lost.
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