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Will Karnataka toe-hold lead to Southern leap?

The factors that helped the BJP in Karnataka do not exist in Kerala, Andhra and Tamil Nadu where it isn’t a player, not yet, reports Vinod Sharma.
Hindustan Times | By Vinod Sharma, New Delhi
UPDATED ON MAY 26, 2008 12:19 AM IST

The Bhartiya Janata Party’s landmark Karnataka win marks the Congress-led UPA’s 12th defeat in assembly polls since the 2004 Lok Sabha elections. But will the big toehold it has acquired in the state help the party strike roots in the largely bipolar polity of other southern states?

Political analysts aren’t convinced whether that’s possible in the near future. The factors that helped the BJP in Karnataka do not exist in Kerala, Andhra and Tamil Nadu where it isn’t a player, not yet.

In these states, there is no discernible political space like the one ceded by the Janata Dal in Karnataka — the Dravidian parties dominating Tamil Nadu and the Kerala electorate so habituated to swinging between the Left Democratic Front and the Congress-led United Democratic Front. Even the RSS elements feel compelled in the CPM bastion to vote for the UDF out of a visceral disdain for Communism.

The BJP did put up an impressive show in Andhra in the 1999 elections by securing 18 per cent vote. But its alliance and the subsequent breakup with the Telugu Desam and the retirement from public life of A.B. Vajpayee, whose restoration as PM was then an issue in Andhra, has knocked the party out of the arena. The race is crowded instead by the TRS and film star Chiranjeevi’s proposed outfit besides the two old rivals: the Congress and TDP.

“The alliance with the TDP killed the BJP’s identity,” remarked a top-notch Andhra politician. Moreover, politics is fragmented on State lines in India, as proved by the big saffron presence in Gujarat and the Congress-NCP regime in Maharashtra. Hadn’t it been so, the Congress in Haryana would have checked the BJP-Akali victory in Punjab.

But all this does not take away the gravity of the Congress’s defeat in Karnataka. The party’s dilemma after a string of electoral setbacks is akin to the formation of Opposition Samyukta Vidhayak Dal governments across India in the 1960s.

So how does the Congress attain nirvana? In reverting to Nehru’s rainbow coalitions of social groups (castes) through projection of regional leaders, suggested Delhi University’s Prof Subrata Mukherjee. “Remote control from Delhi will continue to cause immense harm,” he said.

Political aspirations of castes cannot be fulfilled by economic prescriptions such as rural jobs and loan waivers, noted a candidate who lost. The Congress could defeat the dominant Lingayat and Vokalligga communities that ganged up against it 1971 in all the 28 Lok Sabha seats by galvanising other castes.

But those were the days of the doughty Indira Gandhi. The Congress had the social coalition in place this time as well to contain Yeddyurappa. It lost because it showed no fire of aggression against the Lingayats through on-ground aggregation of the caste identities of S M Krishna (Vokalliga), Siddharamaiah (OBC) and Mallikarjun Kharge (Dalit).

It's high time the Congress stemmed the rot by combining its economic initiatives with the caste realities. The party is relevant still in Kerala and Andhra because of the Nairs and the Reddys, whom Brahmanand Reddy retained in the Congress fold after Sanjiva Reddy's exit.

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