Sunday, May 25, 2008

KARNATAKA: ELEPHANT CRUSHES HAND; LOTUS BLOOMS

The rout of the Congress party in election after election continues. In its eleventh straight defeat, the once dominant political party has been defeated in the Karnataka assembly elections, the results of which are still coming in.

For the first ever time, the Lotus of the BJP has bloomed south of the Vindhyas. The stunning victory of the party, touching the half way mark as this post is being written, is a historic landmark as it has achieved it entirely on its own, without the crutches of a regional party in Southern India. The verdict is also extremely significant because the election in Karnataka was not polarised on the weather beaten ‘communal’ vs. ‘secular’ lines which may have influenced electoral outcomes to varying degrees in other elections elsewhere in the country.

For the Congress, this defeat is worse than bad news. The slap that Mayawati gave to the party when it swept the recent by-elections in UP has turned into an almost mortal blow in Karnataka.

The Congress has now little choice but to honestly acknowledge, and start seriously worrying about, the total lack of impact that the extensive campaigning by their only real leader, Rahul Gandhi, has made on real Indians across the whole nation. In an earlier post, I had mentioned that sometimes a visual can convey the truth more tellingly than any amount of ‘sponsored’ projection can. Then, visuals of Rahul Gandhi drawing absolutely zero response from spectators when he was watching a cricket match, in total contrast to their enthusiastic response to Shahrukh Khan whenever his face appeared on the giant screen in the stadium, conveyed a very powerful message. The clear message to which apparently I alone was tuned should have left no one in any doubt about the impact Rahul Gandhi was making even on well informed urban Indians, forget those tucked away without TV sets in rural India.

The Karnataka verdict shows that the whole nation has given an emphatic thumbs down almost to the profligate and economically disastrous steps that the Congress has taken in the recent past to woo voters. The Rs 50,000 crore National Rural Employment Guarantee(NREGS) and the Rs 60,000 crore Farm Loan Waiver Schemes have completely failed to enthuse those whom they were intended to benefit and consequently motivate to vote for the Congress.

These two schemes are going to cost the nation more than the annual defence budget does! And, it is you and I who are going to pay for them.

The really poor have for the last almost 60 years seen such schemes enrich politicians, bureaucrats and other power brokers while doing literally nothing for them. With the delivery systems remaining unaltered, it is a wonder that the Congress had any illusion that they would get voters to come to it in droves. May be only a few disconnected top leaders had such illusions; for grass root level leaders, the NREGS is another lucrative avenue to milk the state. Similarly, waiver of bank loans is not going to touch the really poor farmers. Why? They don’t qualify to get a bank loan in the first place! And most don’t even have a bank account.

What has been the impact of Rahul Gandhi’s extensive ‘Discover India’ campaign, with particular emphasis on wooing dalits by spending a night in dalit homes across the state? Dalits, since Independence the staple electoral fodder of the Congress, have dumped the party. The voting percentages will be available later, but the telling figure available is that out of 36 Scheduled Caste reserved seats, the Congress has won/is leading in just six. The BJP, surprisingly, has bagged 21. Had it been the other traditional way round, the Congress would have claimed ‘victory’ despite the BJP still being the largest single party and would have been in a position to form a coalition government with the JD(S).

On the surface, the BJP has done well in seats reserved for dalits. Is it because the dalits have left the Congress and gone into the Lotus camp? Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party(BSP) contested all seats in these elections. The BSP has no base in Karnataka at all. This is the first time that the Elephant of Mayawati has made a serious attempt to make its presence felt significantly in South India. The party put up candidates in all constituencies and Mayawati herself campaigned actively to woo dalit voters. Mayawati had no illusions about her performance in these elections. Presently she is focussing only on creating a base across the whole country, on which she will build over time, quite like the BJP had done some years back.

Mayawati’s Elephant may have failed to win any seat this time. But what it seems to have successfully done is to get enough votes in a significant number of constituencies to crush the Hand of the Congress party and ensure its defeat.

As a fallout, the BJP has emerged as the clear winner. This is the famous ‘spoiler’ effect that Mayawati is continuing to have on the Congress state after state. And the Congress has only one failed answer: Rahul Gandhi. The repeated inability of Rahul Gandhi to get any additional votes for the Congress even after getting the government to shell out more than a hundred thousand crores to fund dubious schemes is ominous for the Congress. There is, unfortunately, no other leader in the party who can lead it, except perhaps Rahul’s sister Priyanka, so hopelessly dependent is the party on the Nehru-Gandhi family. A fatal weakness assiduously nurtured for nearly three decades is now hastening its decline into oblivion.

The results of the 2008 Karnataka election reinforce what I had said in a earlier post: Mayawati, ironically, can become the saviour of the Congress party rather remain the spoiler that many Congressmen think she is. Perhaps the time for Mayawati to actively begin the process of splitting the Congress party has come. Given the manner in which her Elephant has repeatedly crushed the Congress’ Hand, desertions from the Congress may soon turn into a tide, with the remaining rump of the party disappearing faster than can be even imagined now.

The Elephant may yet rescue the real Hand.

This fight to finish between Mayawati and the Congress has and will continue to benefit the BJP considerably during the next few years. The Lotus is nearing full bloom. The clear message from Karnataka is that in the next general elections, the BJP will emerge triumphant. If Mayawati is not able by then to get enough strong deserters from the Congress.
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Readers may also like to read:
Mayawati:Spoiler or Saviour?