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Thursday, Nov 14, 2019

Karnataka election results 2018: The kingmaker is now the king

PM Narendra Modi carried the day for the BJP, which, while it adds to the man’s own myth, should also worry the party at one level. Even factoring in Mr Modi’s obvious (and phenomenal) stamina on the campaign trail, how much can one man do?

editorials Updated: May 15, 2018 20:27 IST

Hindustan Times
JD(S) president-HD Deve Gowda during an election campaign, Mysore, 2018
JD(S) president-HD Deve Gowda during an election campaign, Mysore, 2018(PTI)
         

The Karnataka election results need to be seen in two dimensions. The first is a mix of the mathematical and the political.

The Congress, which won 78 seats, has announced its decision to back the Janata Dal(S), which won 38 (including one seat of its partner the BSP), effectively signalling its willingness to be the minority partner of the latter, or even support its government from outside. The JD(S) has said that it will accept this backing, and that HD Kumaraswamy will be the chief minister of the state.

There are also reports that the Bharatiya Janata Party, which won 104 seats, and is the single largest party in the 222-member assembly (voting in two constituencies has been deferred), has reached out to the JD(S).

Both the Congress and the BJP are clearly desperate to keep the other party out.

The focus now shifts to the governor. He has met both parties and will likely take a call on Wednesday. It is possible that he will call the single largest party to form the government, ignoring the claims of the Congress and the JD(S) because they did not have a pre-poll alliance. That won’t be without precedent. Of course, he could also choose to invite the JD(S) and the Congress, despite them not having an alliance ahead of the polls. That, too, wouldn’t be without precedent. The governor’s discretion clearly matters, but given that he is an appointee of the NDA government, he will likely go with the first option. The BJP will then have to prove its majority within a certain time frame, perhaps a week. That means Karnataka should get ready for a week of what’s popularly known as “resort” politics, with one grouping trying to prevent its legislators from being influenced or poached by the other. To prove its majority, the BJP will either have to get 40% of the legislators of the JD (S) or the Congress to break away or get some to abstain when the voting happens in the house.

The second is the message in the verdict, which should not be obscured by all the manoeuvering currently on.

The results proved, though, that public memory isn’t short; that 18 months of election-focused work can’t erase 36 months of inefficiency. Of the 30 Cabinet ministers in Siddaramiah’s government, 17 lost in the elections (the CM himself lost in one of the two constituencies from which he contested). That’s as strong an anti-incumbency wave as can be.

For almost three-and-half years of his tenure in Karnataka, Chief Minister Siddaramiah didn’t do much. An agrarian crisis, aided by two successive droughts, took its toll. Public infrastructure, in Bengaluru and other parts of the state, crumbled. Meanwhile, Congress legislators appeared to be getting richer (although, to be fair, this seems to be a universal truth for legislators across the country and across party lines).

In the last 18 months of his tenure, though, Mr Siddaramiah went into overdrive. He launched a rash of welfare schemes. The weather gods were kind to him too: last year, Karnataka received normal rainfall (another drought would have been disastrous). He hired a really smart social media team that always seemed to have the last word in repartees with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s own team. And for everyone looking for someone who could take the fight to Mr Modi (and many were), Mr Siddaramiah became the man.

Those 18 months, with the benefit of hindsight, may have only bettered the Congress tally in the elections (which means it could have done worse otherwise), but ahead of the polls, they only served to exaggerate the party’s chances.

The Congress’ decision to back the JD(S) isn’t surprising. It’s been clear for some time now that the only way to defeat the BJP is for all its relevant major rivals to come together. This happened in the by-elections in Uttar Pradesh. The Congress must be ruing the fact that it didn’t strike an alliance with the JD(S).

Still, neither the Congress nor the BJP is likely to be celebrating the JD(S)’ performance. The party’s strong showing could strengthen calls for a non-BJP, non-Congress federal front in 2019, although such third fronts usually flatter, only to deceive. Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati campaigned along with the JD(S) in Karnataka, with the latter indicating support for her prime ministerial aspirations in 2019 that already seem to have the silent endorsement of the Samajwadi Party. Other possible constituents of such a front, including Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee, also have similar ambitions — one reason why such partnerships rarely last — but the continued relevance of strong regional parties, if only in pockets, will remain an irritant for both the Congress and the BJP.

The BJP has another big worry as well — one that was evident during its campaign. Its win in Karnataka was largely on account of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Many of its other leaders failed to connect with the electorate. And while its chief ministerial candidate BS Yeddyurappa won his own seat comfortably, he was not at the forefront of the party’s campaign; Mr Modi was. Indeed, the BJP seemed to be fighting two campaigns in Karnataka, one with Mr Modi as the star campaigner and party president Amit Shah as the backroom brain; and another with Mr Yedyyurappa and the Reddys of Bellary, both tainted by corruption scandals dating back to when the BJP was last in power in the state, but still very politically relevant. Mr Modi carried the day for the BJP, which, while it adds to the man’s own myth, should also worry the party at one level. Even factoring in Mr Modi’s obvious (and phenomenal) stamina on the campaign trail, how much can one man do?