Saturday May 31 2008 08:44 IST
Mathihalli Madan Mohan
The Bharatiya Janata Party has at last found its hour of destiny in Karnataka, with the electorate giving the party its maiden chance to form a government south of the Vindhyas. This is something the national leadership has wanted desperately for a long time.
It is a huge political bonanza, and it has come at an opportune time for the party, both at the national and the state levels. In the first place, Karnataka is the latest of the states to fall into its kitty. Secondly, victory comes even as the party prepares to take on the Congress for control of Parliament a year from now. Thus, the win has come as a real shot in the arm for the national leadership in general and L K Advani in particular, as he is the BJP’s prime minister-designate.
At the state level, this is the high point of a long, hard struggle to make its presence felt since it first reached double digits in the Assembly way back in 1983. The Yeddyurappa government, which assumed office yesterday, is only the third single party non- Congress government to hold the reins in Karnataka, the first under the BJP banner. It is an impressive progression. Having pipped the Congress in the semi-final round in 2004, as it were, to take over as the single largest party in the 224-member House, the BJP has won the final this time. Victory could not taste sweeter than this.
Its inability to get a simple majority on its own does not detract from the fact that with 110 seats and the support of all six independents, it faces no challenge from any rival, neither the Congress (80) nor the JD(S) (28), both of which lag far behind. Besides, it finds itself almost on par with the Congress in terms of vote share for the first time, a fact that may have a bearing on its fortunes in the coming parliamentary elections. The final tally gives the BJP 88.57 lakh votes against 90.48 lakhs for the Congress.
At another level, too, it is cause for celebration for Yeddyurappa whose indefatigable energy, coupled with hard work, is the main reason for the rise in the party’s political stature. The work done by Yeddyurappa and Ananth Kumar as president and secretary of the state unit in the ’nineties, laid the foundation for the BJP’s growth. The differences that cropped up between them subsequently cannot obscure this. Three developments could be considered responsible for the BJP’s move up from a fledgling party struggling for political existence to a major player in Karnataka. The first is the initiative taken by the late Ramakrishna Hegde to channel voters’ growing disenchantment with the Congress to build up a political alternative. This has been crucial to the continued improvement in the political stature of the BJP.
Initially, the advantage went to the Janata- turned-Janata Dal when it rode to power on a crest of anti-Congress sentiment in the 1983, 1995 and 1994 assembly elections. But its subsequent demise due to infighting focused attention on the BJP, which benefited most from the collapse of the Janata Dal experiment.
After the party won 18 seats in 1983, it was greatly encouraged and extended support from outside to the first non-Congress party government. But the performance turned out to be a fluke as it found to its dismay that it had no means of penetrating into the rural areas, which were pocket boroughs of the Congress and the Janata Dal. The breakthrough came through Advani’s Rath Yatra in the days preceding the demolition of the Babri masjid.
The consolidation of non-Congress votes resulted in an upset for the Congress in the 1994 elections. The BJP emerged as the main opposition party while the JD came to power. The Congress was pushed to third position. This was the beginning of a steady rise in the party’s fortunes though there were reverses, too, linked to the consolidation or fragmentation of anti-Congress votes. In the four Lok Sabha elections between 1996 and 2004, the BJP’s share of votes has constantly risen, from 46.49 lakhs in 1996 to 87.32 lakhs in 2004. The number of seats has ranged from 6 to 18. The Congress has lost its monopoly over the Lok Sabha seats, its tally ranging from eight to 18. The JD,which started with a bang winning 16 seats in 1996, floundered midway due to the split. The JD(U) won three seats as an alliance partner of the BJP. The JD(S) at that time had only two seats.
The Congress returned to power 1999 and lost it in 2004, again as a result of the same phenomenon — fragmentation and consolidation, respectively, of the anti-Congress vote. In 1999, the BJP/JD(U) squandered a great chance to share power, mainly because of mutual bickering which prevented a consolidation of anti-Congress votes. Power was handed on a platter to the Congress. The BJP had to be satisfied with its position as the principal opposition party. It also had to stomach the humiliation of seeing Yeddyurappa lose on his home turf. He had to be rehabilitated politically through the Legislative Council. The Congress rode back to power with 132 seats, though its vote share of 90.77 lakhs was less than the 99.21 lakhs secured by the three non-Congress outfits, the BJP, JDU and JDS.
In 2004 the Congress lost the race because of the better consolidation of the anti-Congress votes. The decimation of the JD(U) left only two, the BJP and the JD(S), to share the non-Congress votes, and this resulted in a fractured mandate. It was, however, a moment of new glory for the BJP,when it could, with 79 seats, emerge as the single largest party in the fractured verdict that the electorate had handed out, granting 65 seats to the Congress and 58 to the JD(S). Between them, the three non-Congress outfits, the BJP, the JD(S) and the decimated JD(U), polled 128.56 lakhs against 88.61 lakhs for the Congress.
The BJP’s good showing in the latest election was mainly because the JD(S) lost its image as a credible anti-Congress outfit. In short, voters looking for a viable non-Congress outfit had little choice but to vote for the BJP. It thus became the alternative in the absence of any other alternative. Until now, the BJP has taken a ride on the back of successive anti-Congress waves. The time has come for it to convert this negative support into something positive. The true challenge for the party is to persuade voters into casting their ballots for the BJP, not against the Congress. So the question being widely debated is whether its Karnataka leadership has the necessary political wisdom and strategy in place to make that happen. It has to find a way to do this if it wants to ensure an enduring political future.