It’s an election nobody wanted. Already plagued by years of dissension and splits, corruption scandals and bad governance, the ruling BJP didn’t need a mirror to see the abscess on its palm. The Congress, patiently waiting for the BJP to self-destruct, didn’t want any signs of an upswing in its fortunes to be sighted before the assembly elections. For others, like the JD(S), KJP and the BSR Congress, this was an unnecessary exercise before the state elections as their performance would have to match their stated ambitions and the state-wide political base they claimed.
Only the Supreme Court’s insistence led to the holding of the elections. Even the state assembly would have been dissolved by now but for the desire on the part of the MLAs to get funds released from this year’s budget and undertake some more development activities before the end of March. Chief minister Jagadish Shettar too wanted to present his maiden budget and use that opportunity to woo voters with populist programmes.
With only one-fifth of the voters stating their preference, the urban local bodies election may not tell us much. Still the slight advantage the Congress has due to the anti-incumbency factor has become quite apparent. More significantly, Muslims seem to be coalescing around the party, ditching their earlier strategy of tactical voting in support of the strongest secular candidate. The loss suffered by the JD(S) in Ramanagaram is attributed to this. Perhaps this Muslim support could be a result of the assiduous wooing of the minority vote by the UPA government, including the declaration to establish a minority university named after Tipu Sultan in Srirangapattana.
Yet splintering alone cannot account for the BJP’s setback. Urban areas have traditionally been BJP strongholds and its three governments in the past five years have nurtured this constituency by releasing significant funds for urban development. Hence the party’s loss is not a good omen. Note that elections to the Bangalore Corporation weren’t held—here the BJP is decidedly unpopular due to its handling of the garbage crisis and is expected to lose big in the assembly elections. It is also quite likely that the erosion of support for the BJP is significantly greater in rural areas, given its inept handling of the poor monsoon.
The other clear trend is that money alone doesn’t win elections. Witness the bsr Congress’s dismal performance in traditional strongholds Bellary and elsewhere in the iron-ore rich central Karnataka. While I personally witnessed large sums of money being distributed, it hasn’t been a determining factor, as it was in a large number of assembly constituencies in the last two elections. Still, the Congress would have to run an impeccable campaign to drive home its advantage. Many Congress leaders haven’t done well in their home base, which will remain a source of anxiety. For now, if the euphoric Congress leaders have any apprehension, it’s to do with sharing the spoils once they return to office after seven years.
The author is a social historian at the Darideepa Research Institute, Mysore; E-mail your columnist: pdcs AT outlook.com