Learning from Karnataka (May 28, 2008)

News Analysis

on what lessons could be learnt from the secular front debacle in the southern state.

To me the Karnataka defeat of so-called secular political formations is not a surprising turn of events. Most of us saw it coming during the preceding months of disarray in the non-NDA, non-BJP front. It seemed as if the rule of law, supremacy of the Constitution and maintenance of a constitutionally-mandated secular order was the last thing on the mind of our "secular" leaders.

The faith of common voters in secular values was seriously undermined by the unprincipled formation and breaking of ruling alliances. In that particular reckoning Gowda padre and Gowda filius turned out to be the worst offenders. Their antics trivialised secular values and sent the message to the electorate that secularism was a mere convenience or theatrical mask to be put on while on stage and put away when off it. They made secularism sound like a hollow joke.

On the other hand, the largest (if not the most genuine) "secular" party, Congress, made a fool of itself by choosing to remain a silent spectator in the entire game. The ineptitude and inaction of Congress continued even when weaker sections, especially innocent Muslims, were being tormented by police in the name of anti-terrorism campaign. Under the spell of a hyped "anti-terror" propaganda campaign launched by the BJP the police went on a totally unjust and unfair which hunt against Muslims during the President's rule.

In most cases the police were harassing innocent Muslims. The scare crow of SIMI created by the BJP later became an official mascot for the state. It was clear that the state machinery was following the Sangh's patently anti-Muslim line instead of an independent, nationalistic line demanded by the situation.

Complaints to Union Home Ministry failed to produce any results. In effect, the Home Ministry was only endorsing the BJP perspective that seemed to guide the state machinery in Karnataka. Naturally, when the election came round people decided in favour of the original BJP rather than its B team, Congress, and other fake BJPs that call themselves by secular names.

Congress floundered on several fronts, one of them being consistently wrong choice of candidates. The political grapevine was abuzz with whispers of money exchanging hands in lieu of Congress ticket. As if that was not trouble enough, Congress was further hobbled by inefficient election campaign management and lack of coordination between campaign leaders and party cadre in the field.

The uncontrolled price rise, too, took its toll. There was a feeling among people that if the Centre had flexed its muscles and raided some of the warehouses of traders hoarding food grains the market would have been flooded with food, thus bringing down prices. Even some economists are of the same view. As ever before the Centre chose not to act.

Gowda Sr., Gowda Jr. and the Congress party created the impression that only BJP can give a clean, efficient government. The people felt that the JDS could not be trusted, and Congress was worthless. They voted against JDS-Congress, but it turned out to be a vote for BJP.

The worst part of it is that BJP was allowed to play the post-Godhra card in Karnataka by creating a fear of Muslims. We all remember how Narendra Modi used to harp on teaching Mian Musharraf a lesson, thus successfully merging the identity of Gujarati (and Indian) Muslims with that of Musharraf and Pakistan, and creating fear of Muslims in the Hindu mind. The same fear was created in Karnataka using SIMI with the same effect. In Karnataka Mian Musharraf was replaced by Sohrabuddin (who was murderd by police without rhyme or reson) as a scarecrow, and SIMI, HUJI, Jaish and all manner of organisations were turned into a mascot. This fail-safe recipe worked wonders in favour of BJP as there was no counter-move from our "secularists".

In a nutshell, it was the victory of politics of fear. Also, it was not a vote for BJP, but against JDS. Ultimately BJP won by default, not by its own merit.


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