EDITORIAL

Ills of our Democracy

The political drama which unfolded in Karnataka bares the ills of parliamentary elections in our democracy. Open horse-trading, allegations and counter-allegations took the voters’ faith for a toss. The speed with which the JD(S)-Congress stepped in to stake claim to form the Karnataka government showed how democratic institutions could be played with to a self-obsessed political goal. In the process, the main stakeholder voters were made insignificant as the political chicanery played its worst play on the temple of democracy. Not to spare, the BJP, which emerged as the single largest party, left no stone unturned to cobble up the magic figure of majority. Whatever the intention of the parties in the fray may be, one thing became crystal clear: that electoral politics in India calls for an urgent reform process where voters have the right to recall their votes in case a party plays truant after the poll results. It is important also to remember that the post-election drama in Karnataka had everything to do with the Congress party’s desperation to keep its own little toe grounded in the State they have ruled for five years. Without Karnataka, the grand old party has only Punjab and Puducherry left. So even the most humiliating compromise with a party derided by Rahul Gandhi as the B-team of the BJP is better than losing power altogether. You realize what a sham ‘secularism’ has become if you remember that during the campaign the Janata Dal (S) in the party’s name was mocked by Congress leaders as standing for Sangh and not secular. Even as BS Yedyurappa was taking his oath of office last Thursday, the president of the Congress party tweeted this: “This morning, while the BJP celebrates its hollow victory, India will mourn the defeat of democracy.” He clearly forgot that if there was one conclusive thing that came out of the election results, it was that it was a mandate against the incumbent Congress government.

There was high drama in Karnataka ahead of Yeddyurappa’s announcement. Two Congress lawmakers were missing in the Assembly as newly elected members were sworn in. The Congress and JDS lawmakers were constantly on the move as their parties tried to sequester them from attempts to bribe, threaten or induce them into switching over to the BJP. The lawmakers had travelled through the night also from Bengaluru to Hyderabad on Thursday night, covering 500 km in an exhausting eight-hour journey that started just after midnight. The Congress and JDS had planned chartered flights out of Bengaluru but they say they were not given permission. All these scenes are the perfect ingredient for a Bollywood flick.

But politically speaking, the Karnataka failure underlines a limitation of the saffron brigade and its much-hyped reputation of turning defeat into victories in successive States, including Goa (2017), Manipur (2017) and Meghalaya (2018). The first example of this was Bihar, February 2015. The BJP had tried to tap into the growing mistrust between JD(U) leader Nitish Kumar and his chosen chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi. With Manjhi publicly voicing his displeasure over Nitish’s attempts to flex muscle and run the government by proxy, the BJP had courted him unabashedly, with party leaders in the State and at the Centre speaking out in Manjhi’s favour. The second instance was Uttarakhand, May 2016. The BJP had tried to bring down Congress CM Harish Rawat, hoping to cash in on the opposition to him within his party, with the Centre imposing President’s Rule in the State. However, the order had been quashed by the Uttarakhand High Court, and in the floor test ordered by the Supreme Court in May 2016, Rawat had survived as the BJP could not get additional defections to bring his government down. In the third and perhaps the most embarrassing instance, the BJP’s attempt to poach enough Gujarat Congress MLAs to deny a Rajya Sabha seat to senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel in August 2017 had come a cropper. If Karnataka elections are rehearsal to 2019 general elections, then it all makes up for an interesting fight ahead. The BJP had put its entire might, party president Amit Shah down, into that one seat, but the Congress had eventually emerged victorious by rallying its flock and sending them to a resort in Bengaluru. Shah had sat well past midnight at a counting centre in the State capital, while top BJP leaders had petitioned the Election Commission in Delhi, but had failed to stop Patel.