BJP needs to introspect and unite behind leaders with mass support
By Sandhya Jain on May 9, 2013
There’s maths and there’s chemistry; fusion brings victory. This is what makes the whole greater than the sum of its parts. When you break up the whole, it does not split back to its original parts. Fragmentation creates a new math, a new chemistry, a whole new sum.
This is the substance of the Karnataka 2013 Assembly election result. The BJP calculations were awry from the moment rootless but deeply factionalised leaders in New Delhi succeeded in forcing Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa, architect of the 2008 victory, to quit in August 2011. The idea that political jugglery could neutralise the strongman’s formidable Lingayat votebank was laughable from the start. The subsequent failure to provide effective governance to check further erosion of public goodwill compounded the failure. The result, as anticipated, was the chronicle of a party decimated by its own sins of omission and commission.
Tactically, the BJP entered the electoral arena with multiple flanks exposed — it had to fight the Congress which had its core vote share intact and would benefit from the party’s mess and Yeddyruappa’s anger. It was contesting the Janata Dal (Secular) which too had worked to consolidate its support base. It was fighting to defeat Yeddyurappa who was invincible in the sense that he was there only to defeat the BJP and not to win the election. So while the party struggled with the math, others stole the chemistry.
Congress secured 36.5 per cent of the vote, just 1.8 per cent above its 2008 tally, but managed 121 seats out 223 (one elections was countermanded). The JDS also added only 1.1 per cent vote to its tally from 2008. But BJP’s vote share declined by a massive 13.9 per cent from 2008, to settle below JDS (20.1 per cent) at less than 20 per cent, though both managed to win 40 seats each. Yeddyurappa’s fledgling Karnataka Janata Paksha managed an impressive 9.8 per cent. The remaining 4.1 per cent of the original support of BJP-KJP went elsewhere.
The results show that the BJP never had a Plan B from the time Yeddyurappa was driven out of office, for the man who engineered the exit could not be made Chief Minister due to the political exigencies that rose due to the ouster.
It remains a mystery why, once the party bosses realised that Yeddyurappa’s ouster was a mistake, they failed to make a diplomatic retreat and reinstate him. Nitin Gadkari’s tenure was possibly the nadir of the party’s political acuity, though the continued stranglehold of leaders who cannot win elections without safe seats is a continuing problem.
Even more amazingly, the BJP did not see the writing on the wall even in April 2012 when the bells tolled loudly as Congress president Sonia Gandhi arrived at the influential Sri Siddaganga Mutt to felicitate Lingayat seer Sri Sri Shivakumara Swami in the community’s stronghold at Tumkur. Surely the BJP could not have forgotten that the Lingayats were traditionally loyal to the Congress and defected only after the party high command booted out then Congress Chief Minister Veerendra Patil in 1990. That is how Yeddyurappa eventually emerged as the community strongman and gifted the BJP its first ever victory in a southern State. Prior to this, the community facilitated the election of Janata Dal leader JH Patel, also a Lingayat, as Chief Minister.
The Lingayats comprise a formidable 21 per cent of the State’s population and do not take insults lightly. Sonia Gandhi sought political pardon for her party even as the BJP made the very same mistake that drove the Lingayats away from the Congress! It could hardly have helped the BJP that Yeddyurappa – who reportedly played a role in getting the seer to meet Sonia Gandhi – has clout with the heads of other Lingayat shrines. This was the last chance for the BJP to make up with Yeddyurappa, but it displayed inexplicable obduracy, and the rest is history.
This is the template on which the Karnataka election was fought. A BJP refusal to pass the Union Budget and force a vote-on-account could have shifted the national template and taken the sheen off the Congress victory in Karnataka. But the party is unable to handle simple equations and passed the Budget and kept Parliament alive but non-functional until the victory in Bangalore let Congress adjourn the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha sine-die.
This has enabled Congress to fence off demands for the resignation of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh over irregularities in the allocation of coal blocks, of Railways Minister PK Bansal in the Railway Board sale of posts scam, and of the Law Minister Ashwani Kumar for interfering in the working of the CBI. However, the Supreme Court’s strictures and the displeasure of the Supreme Court Bar Association may force the exit of Attorney General GE Vahanvati, though he is fighting to stay put.
For an honest introspection, the BJP must analyse its performance in the State in 2004, 2008, and 2013. In the 2004 Assembly election, the BJP emerged as the single largest party winning 79 out of the 224 seats. In 2008, it won 110 seats. Now, in 2013, it is reduced to a rump of 40 seats. A preliminary analysis shows that in 75 Constituencies, the combined BJP-KJP vote is higher than that of Congress.
In 2004, the Congress (64) and Janata Dal Secular (58) formed a coalition Government led by Congress with Dharam Singh as Chief Minister. In 2006, the JDS withdrew and joined hands with the BJP so that its leader HD Kumaraswamy could become Chief Minister. This arrangement fell in October 2007 after Kumaraswamy refused to give the chair to Yeddyurappa as agreed in 2006. In 2008, the BJP won 110 seats and formed the Government with support from independents.
The scam-ridden Congress played its cards well and triumphed thanks to the BJP’s persistent saga of errors. The BJP is back to 1994 status, with 40 seats.
The bad news for the party is that it will not be able to exploit Congress’s declining fortunes in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh, where the Telangana issue and Jaganmohan factor are expected to batter the Congress.
Of course, as some observers point out, it would be premature to conclude that the local victory in Karnataka will translate into support for the Congress in the national election, whenever these are held. But things will improve for the BJP only if it undertakes serious introspection and avoids spurious tea parties in the homes of leaders with no mass base who persist in pushing it down the slope.