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Positive unilateralism is the best bet for an anti-BJP front

The speed with which the Congress party approached Janata Dal (Secular) obviated the stalemate that could have made the Governor’s invite to the Bharatiya Janata Party seem fair.

Karnataka Elections 2018 Updated: May 22, 2018 08:31 IST
Vinod Sharma
Vinod Sharma
Hindustan Times, Bengaluru
Congress president Rahul Gandhi meets JD(S) leader HD Kumaraswamy at Tughlak Lane in New Delhi.
Congress president Rahul Gandhi meets JD(S) leader HD Kumaraswamy at Tughlak Lane in New Delhi.(HT Photo)

Political journeys aren’t crow flights. They are long-haul surface travels involving arduous rides past roadblocks. In that sense, Delhi for the Congress isn’t a 1,800km air-dash or a 2,121km bus ride from Bengaluru. The distance is much longer — with scant assurance of a safe arrival in 2019.

The old adage says, ‘all’s well that ends well’. But not everything that begins well, ends well in politics. The first-mover advantage that the Congress snatched in Karnataka after a disheartening poll result was a mix of luck and promptitude.

From here on, it will need all the lightning reflexes to be the pivot of opposition federacy or unity.

The speed with which the party approached the Janata Dal (Secular) obviated the stalemate that could’ve made the governor’s invite to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) seem fair, noted a veteran of coalition politics who wanted to remain unnamed.

Tactics apart, he saw in the Congress move the realism required to stitch up alliances.

The model in the making isn’t hard to spot. A broader anti-BJP alliance at the Centre has to be constructed through equitable tie-ups in the states.

Beyond that is the even more difficult task of creating chemistry between constituents of parties that have forever battled each other. For example, Dalits aligned with the Congress have to work with Dalits aligned to the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).

“Alliances with top-down approaches cannot work without grassroots support,” explained a leader who was a minister under HD Deve Gowda in the United Front regime of 1996. The task is daunting but doable, what with a plethora of issues agitating various social groups — ranging from scheduled and subaltern castes to ‘elites’ such as Marathas, Jats and Patidars.

The responsibility on the Congress in Karnataka is greater than on the Gowda clan — despite its sole stated agenda for the 2019 general elections being the ouster of the BJP, and not the Congress’s restoration to power.

“There’s greater force at times in the politics of magnanimity than in the mere deployment of power,” noted an old Telugu Desam Party (TDP) hand.

Given their experience in parliamentary opposition, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and LK Advani understood it better than the current crop of BJP leaders, he said.

The member of the TDP old-guard illustrated the point by recalling the dramatic phase in 1984 when the Congress briefly dispossessed NT Rama Rao of power:

“Unlike what we saw last week in Karnataka, Indira Gandhi never blocked chartered flights we took to the Janata Party-ruled Bengaluru to safeguard TDP legislators.”

So while the BJP went about stalling HD Kumaraswamy, the Congress shone in contrast. Its positive unilateralism to break the numbers logjam had a fraternal air essential for political entente with erstwhile foes.

The Congress, in the process, regained its reflexes, and its survival extinct, to salvage partial victory from clear defeat in Karnataka.

The big decision to cede the chief minister’s office to the JD(S) was of course of the high command—a euphemism for the Sonia Gandhi-Rahul-Priyanka triad. The way it was executed by the party veterans drove home the value of experience amid the internal Congress clamour for change.

The party, battered by a string of defeats, will need to sustain the momentum as it motors down to destinations with formidable regional forces: Maharashtra, Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Tamil Nadu.

Regional satraps are invariably temperamental and over-demanding.

The Congress will have to be patient and magnanimous in the absence of reciprocity even in states where it has primacy.