Updated: July 27, 2019 10:14:39 am
If you rummage through the 1972 proceedings of the Karnataka Assembly, you’ll discover an intervention related to Shantaveri Gopala Gowda. He was a Socialist leader and a three-time member of the House, who had passed away in June that year. The intervention, which sounds more like petitioning Chief Minister Devaraj Urs, is made by H D Deve Gowda, the then Leader of Opposition. He says Gopala Gowda’s family is in fragile economic health, and as colleagues, they had a duty towards the family. Urs, a mentee of Gopala Gowda, responds positively.
What was a simple act of fraternal concern 48 years ago has great significance today.
Gopala Gowda, an associate of Ram Manohar Lohia, was an influential figure in Karnataka politics in the 1950s and ’60s. He had sparked a new wave of idealism. He not only inspired farmer movements, social justice ideas, renaming of the state, land reforms, but, as an intellectual lodestar, became an intrepid and anarchic protagonist for writers like Gopalakrishna Adiga (Jana Sangh LS candidate in 1971), UR Ananthamurthy and P Lankesh. In fact, Ananthamurthy wrote Awaste, a novel largely based on his life.
Why is it important to summon Gopala Gowda in these politically unhinged times in Karnataka? Does he have the power to offer a corrective? The answer is unreservedly in the negative. But it plays a trick on the minds of the people. His penury offers a glorious contrast to today’s Karnataka legislators who are being measured in dollar millions. He functions as a convenient instrument to measure the slide of intent and values in public life. Never mind that Gowda himself was not a norm in his times, but an exception.
This decontextualised resurrection of memory is a kind of hope-medicine. It calms the guilt-filled moral nerves by inducing a message that it is possible to restore order, it is possible to regain poise, and it is possible to recover idealism. It helps to rebuild the campaign to vote again. It helps to put democracy on a clever loop.
Perhaps this was why the sanctimonious Speaker of the Karnataka Assembly, K R Ramesh Kumar, more than once made Gopala Gowda a totem, and told what he imagined as his degenerate audience: “Is this the same House that once had the likes of Gopala Gowda? A simple, honest man, committed for the cause of the people. He never became a chief minister or a minister. He never sat on the treasury benches. But see what you are fighting for?” To this sermon, he added: “People are watching, everything is going live, everything is going on record, you are being exposed.” This last sentence became a refrain through the proceedings.
The entire trust vote deliberations that were being telecast live on local channels were like a public trial of a politician’s probity. As the alluring details of private jets ferrying rebel legislators to a Mumbai hideout did the rounds, the only thing that one saw BS Yeddyurappa, the puppeteer-in-chief of the defection drama, do, was reluctantly press ear phones to his cheeks. It made one wonder what message echoed in his ears, and what noise was cancelled out.
The BJP’s entire floor strategy was flawed. Even as Congress-JDS legislators stretched the debate by miles, they responded with either a patient smile, a pregnant silence or a loo break. Perhaps they didn’t want unruly scenes as an impediment to the last mile of their power trip. They took all the abuse and allegations hurled at them. But, how much can a self-respecting political party really afford to ignore and condone?
Consider this: Three BJP MLAs who apparently tried to lure a JDS legislator were named, shamed and the amount was disclosed. They were not provoked, they did not protest, and it went on record. Their national leaders were called names, they did not stand up to defend. When the character of the rebels who were helping them claim the throne was ransacked, they allowed the assassination. When their alleged nexus with the media to carry out this operation was unraveled, they did not challenge. Interestingly, even when there was a positive reference to the stellar personal habits of some Jana Sangh and RSS leaders in the past, they didn’t as much as acknowledge their own legacy. It was not their sangfroid, it was being cold and transactional. There was power to be won and power to be lost. Nothing else truly mattered. In people’s memory, this was a trait that the Congress exhibited, not the BJP.
While this was happening, some old conscientious hands of the party were furiously tapping keys on their smart phones. One message sent to the BJP central leadership read somewhat like this: “Party should seriously study the antecedents of these rebels, for whom Yeddyurappaji has claimed moral victory after the SC’s interim order. They are scamsters, real estate agents and land sharks. If we form a government with them, public will not approve. Their crimes and indiscretions will be attributed to us.” For those heavily invested in the game, this would sound naive.
Yeddyurappa has always played an independent game. He credits himself with the BJP’s success in Karnataka, something that pre-dates Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. This has made him only reluctantly acknowledge the party’s new avatar and order. In fact, the former BJP CM is so self-reliant that he was neither close to Atal Bihari Vajpayee nor was he accepted in L K Advani’s durbar. He is the stuff that feudal, dynastic, regional lords are made of.
Anyway, after the trust vote, there is candid appraisal in some political corners. They have acknowledged the simmering tide of public opprobrium. For instance, Congress minister Priyank Kharge tweeted: “All politicians have lost credibility. Public has lost faith in politicians irrespective of party. The way things have unfolded here over two weeks has damaged our reputation further.”
But can we expect Chief Minister Yeddyurappa to concern himself with this?
This article first appeared in the print edition on July 27, 2019 under the title ‘Politics of a different kind’. The writer is a senior journalist and author.
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