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Has Karnataka verdict 2018 unsettled India’s mandate 2014?

The stitching up and the survival of the JD(S)-Congress post-poll coalition has underlined the importance of the Constitution, the need for institutional checks and balances and the urgency for making electoral democracy a meaningful winner. But it has also opened a fresh space to rethink about smaller and regional politics

opinion Updated: May 20, 2018 22:56 IST
Rajesh Mahapatra
Rajesh Mahapatra
Hindustan Times
Congress workers in Patna, Bihar, celebrate after BS Yeddurappa steps down before facing floor test in the Karnataka assembly, May 19(PTI)

After the full drama of Karnataka verdict 2018 played out last evening (on Saturday), the social media picked its own winner ― India’s Supreme Court. Not only did the honourable judges keep awake in the early hours of the morning but ended up delivering strict, no-nonsense and unambiguous instructions. The courts, in other words, saved democracy by living up to the letter and spirit of the Indian Constitution.

The all-round and overwhelming applause for the courts, however, also indicates that verdict Karnataka 2018 announces something bigger — that significant grounds have been created for causing a perceptual shift among the great Indian electorate for the 2019 general elections.

The mandate of the Indian general election of 2014, as is widely accepted, was for a strong leader with a clear parliamentary majority. The belief then was that a strong man was the need of the hour; someone who would clean up the system, provide political stability and put the economy back on a high growth trajectory. In effect, this strong man prime minister was going to be the one-stop-shop to solve all and every ill that afflicted India from the previous “60 years of governance”.

But BS Yeddyurappa’s tearful resignation has changed everything. After almost a four-year run of continuous electoral success ― including snatching victories from the jaws of defeat ―the BJP’s magnificent and invincible electoral machine has finally been given grief. Without doubt, it has been comprehensively outwitted by the Congress, who until last evening at least seemed to be living on borrowed time.

The Congress’s dramatic resurrection, however, is only half the story. The more important half is that their emergence as a winning post-poll coalition was made entirely possible by getting justice on their side. The JD(s)-Congress got the courts to rule correctly, kept their flock of MLAs together and successfully argued their claims on the necessity for upholding constitutional norms.

The BJP, on the other hand, not only came across as being arrogant but continuously gave the impression that moral costs were simply collateral damage and only winning really mattered. In effect, they turned an unclear mandate into a full frontal debate about democracy and justice.

In the end, as anyone watching the pace of events unfolding as tragedy, farce and comedy on 24x7 news would tell you, there was immense relief to conclude that in India staying within the folds of the Constitution is our best bet and that justice really matters.

And as Yeddyruppa began to dry his tears, and as he and his MLA’s began to make their way out of the Vidhana Soudha before the national anthem completely played out, the Indian electorate was left wondering if the strong man mandate of 2014 was really the solution it was made out to be? And, whether that belief should hold for 2019.

If anything, the stitching up and the survival of the JD(S)-Congress post-poll coalition has underlined the importance of the Indian Constitution, the need for institutional checks and balances and the urgency for making electoral democracy a meaningful winner. But, critically as well, it has also opened a fresh space to rethink about smaller and regional politics.

Is India’s Constitution safer with coalition politics and mixed mandates rather than under the rule of a strong man and a single ideology? Can democracy be deepened when more voices get a chance to be heard, especially in a culturally vast and diverse country such as India? Can justice be better realised if you have stronger and more autonomous institutions?

Verdict Karnataka 2018 is clearly unsettling the mandate of 2014.

Will the general election in 2019, in other words, question India’s need for a strong leader with a winner-takes-all attitude?

Twitter: @RajeshMahapatra

First Published: May 20, 2018 18:14 IST