“F-E-A-R has two meanings: ‘Forget Everything and Run,’ or, ‘Face Everything and Rise.’ The choice is yours.”
A series of dramatic developments are in the offing as Karnataka Assembly election sees voters refuse to give any one political party the security of a clear majority. As the state’s ruling Congress and Janata Dal (Secular) are attempting to stitch together a coalition and make a rival bid, JD(S) leader H D Kumaraswamy accused the BJP of being in a ‘hurry’ to form the government despite falling short of numbers, and resorting to ‘horse-trading’ by trying to lure his party MLAs with money (offered Rs 100 crore). The Congress clearly lost the election, but the BJP could not win it. The JD(S) retained its core support base, and finished a respectable third. Now the situation is such that the contest continues beyond the announcement of the results. Congress failed to retain its majority, despite increasing its vote share. BJP has got 27 seats more than Congress, despite trailing the party in vote share by 1.8 percentage points. Those who had bitterly fought against each other and exchanged invectives, decided to come together. The JD(S), which was referred to by the Congress president as the Janata Dal (Sangh Parivar) and the B Team of the BJP, was now openly courted to keep the BJP out of power. BJP just needs eight more seats to reach the halfway mark of 112. It will try to manage that number, although Congress has extended support to Janata Dal (Secular), allowing its leader H D Kumaraswamy to inform the Governor that his post-poll front with Congress gives him the support of 115 MLAs. Not to lose out on an opportunity to place the Congress on the defensive, the BJP has gone ahead and staked its claim to form the government on the ground that it is the single largest party in the newly elected Assembly. The ball now lies in the Governor’s court.
As Karnataka slips away from the hand of Congress, quite literally, it should come as no surprise. Some pre-poll surveys had predicted this verdict by accurately, capturing the mood of Karnataka’s voters. Congress president Rahul Gandhi was a constant presence but did not sufficiently move the masses to buck anti-incumbency. However, his party polled the single largest percentage of the votes (38), ahead of the BJP (36.2), improving on its 2013 share of 36.59%. Congress has learned its lesson – not repeat a Goa or a Manipur or Meghalaya. Two mantras – ‘Power at all costs’ and ‘Keep the BJP out of power’ – Congress is following to keep the BJP out of power in Karnataka. And to avert a repeat of Goa or Manipur or Meghalaya, the Congress moved fast to announce support for Deve Gowda’s party. For the JD(S), the Congress offer is too good to be turned down.
There is no denying that the Congress defeat in Karnataka is a huge blow to its efforts to lead an anti-BJP coalition. However, with this offer in Karnataka Congress gave a direction to its objective of building an anti-BJP front for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The task (uniting anti-NJP parities) is difficult but it has to be done and there is no other alternative without total unity. The Congress now holds three states in India – Mizoram, Pudducherry and Punjab – and losing Karnataka would be a challenge to Rahul Gandhi’s leadership. This election also raises questions on the inability of the Congress president to match up to the capacities of the Prime Minister in a one-on-one contest.