Lessons from Karnataka

| Updated on May 15, 2018 Published on May 15, 2018

A hung verdict in a bitterly fought election throws up no winners or losers

The quixotic hung verdict in the Karnataka assembly elections has delivered a subtle set of messages to all actors in the fray. For the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has done remarkably well, raising its vote share from 20 per cent in 2013 to 36.2 per cent and its seats tally from 40 to 104, the fact of the matter is that it has fallen tantalisingly short of the majority mark of 113 seats. While its performance once again showcases its organisational might, as well as the role of Prime Minister Narendra Modi as campaigner extraordinaire, it must accept that a purely emotive campaign may not necessarily do the trick. A party that won the support of the people on the promise of jobs and development may not entirely benefit by deviating from that script. Ironically, the same holds true for the incumbent Congress, which accused the BJP of not talking about ‘relevant issues’ in the course of the campaign. It could have steered clear of playing the language card. It does not seem to have benefited from its promotion of a separate religion status for Lingayats. Even as the Congress has managed 37.9 per cent of the vote, against 36.3 per cent in 2013, its seats have dropped from 122 to 78. The Siddaramaiah government’s failings in addressing rural distress came to the fore. The Janata Dal (Secular), having secured 38 seats, may have benefited from the neglect of rural issues as well as the nativist overtones of the campaign. A southern State, which has been a leader in IT and technical education, deserved a more progressive discourse. A fiercely fought election has thrown up sobering lessons rather than winners or losers. The Prime Minister’s promise of development and clean governance should assume centrestage.

The BJP holds the natural advantage in the elections to come, even as it battles anti-incumbency in some States. The Congress seems to lack the organisational cohesion or the energy to provide a strong counter-narrative. The Karnataka polls may, however, have created a momentum for a ‘second front’, with Congress playing the second fiddle to regional players.

In keeping with the SR Bommai vs Union of India judgment, the Governor is bound to invite the BJP, the single largest party, to establish majority on the floor of the House. If the BJP fails to do so, the Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular), which seem to have entered into an understanding, can stake a claim to form the government. The Bommai rule was not observed when the Congress was the single largest party in Manipur and Goa. It is best that this situation is resolved without the sort of ‘horse trading’ that is usually associated with hung verdicts. That cannot do the reputation of any of the political actors much good.

Published on May 15, 2018
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