The political mobilisation against the regressive political formation that is in place in Karnataka has had very little that is political about it. Instead, it too looks like a circus.
With Karnataka Governor H.R. Bhardwaj sanctioning the permission that two advocates sought to file a case against Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa over allegations of corruption including the de-notification, to benefit his relatives, of land acquired by the government, the decks appear to have been cleared for the next inescapable step. That step, if the confrontation worsens, could be the dismissal of the Chief Minister and the imposition of President's Rule in the State. The all-too-predictable violence that was let loose during the State-wide bandh called by the Bharatiya Janata Party on January 23 following the Governor's action, could well provide the justification for such drastic action.
According to a report in Varta Bharati, a Kannada daily (January 23), the Governor, who is known to be a loyal Congressman, warned a delegation of BJP Ministers led by Law Minister S. Suresh Kumar that called on him to protest against the sanctioning of prosecution, of such a step. The warning was issued in the context of the BJP's call for the bandh, before the bandh degenerated into violence the following day. The Union Home Minister too warned the BJP that taking the battle to the streets would be unacceptable.
However, such warnings are unlikely to persuade the BJP to moderate its protests. The BJP would like nothing more than get its government dismissed and wear the halo of martyrdom. The party had done exactly that when the Janata Dal (Secular) walked out of the coalition led by the BJP and paved the way for the collapse of the first government led by Mr. Yeddyurappa within a week of its assuming office in November 2007. Less than a year later, in May 2008, the BJP came to power on its own, albeit with the help of a few independent MLAs to muster a majority in the Assembly.
In its three years in office, the BJP government has exposed itself in all its venality, and worse. These years were marked by a further entrenchment of communalism and destruction of social harmony even in areas where communalism was not an issue earlier. The Bababudangiri-Datta Peetha issue, attacks on churches, criminalisation of normal aspects of social interaction such as conversations between boys and girls belonging to different communities … the list can go on. Serious allegations of corruption have been made by the Lokayukta, who considers L.K. Advani a “father figure.”
The BJP, which historically has been an inconsequential political force in the State, was able to become part of a government in Karnataka in February 2006, even if only as a partner in a coalition with the JD(S), thanks to an alliance that the JD(S) struck with the BJP. Driven by his antagonism to the Congress — which probably earned that following its successful poaching of a JD(S) leader and attempts to break the JD(S) — he broke with Congress-JD(S) coalition government under the Congress' N. Dharam Singh that had assumed office following the 2004 Assembly elections.
This was not the first time that a ‘secular' political party was joining hands with the BJP solely with a view to retaining power. But the seeming lack of qualms on the part of the JD(S) was striking. Though it had won more seats than the JD(S) in 2004, the BJP, taking a long-term political perspective, agreed to serve under a JD(S) Chief Minister. The understanding was that the BJP nominee would head the government for the last two years of the life of the Assembly. However, after happily being in power with the BJP, whose leader was the Deputy Chief Minister and Finance Minister in the coalition for two years, the JD(S) walked out when it was the BJP's turn to head it.
The BJP exploited this ‘breaking of faith' by the JD(S) and emerged as the largest single party in the May 2008 elections, but it was still short of a majority. It, however, managed the required numbers and, in its own eyes, became the legitimate party of government in the State. It has been routinely asking for the elimination of the JD(S) as a political force in the State. It envisages a ‘two-party system,' with two ‘national parties', itself and the Congress, competing for power. No doubt, this explains the virulence of the JD(S)' opposition to the BJP. Leaders who have even older grudges against the Congress accuse the two parties of being in a ‘secret alliance' with a view to marginalising and eventually eliminating the JD(S) as a political force.
Pipe dreams, really. Three into Two will simply not go; the reality defies the formula. For the political pathology of the state and society in Karnataka is marked by near-frozen divisions rooted in caste and regional loyalties. Fortunately, religion and language identities allow for some plasticity. The fragmented polity merely reflects this social and political reality.
These differences once found their political expressions within Congress factions. Until the period of the Emergency and its immediate aftermath, the competition was essentially between and among these factions. Palace coups could take care of internal dissidence without affecting the dominance of the Congress. Thus, even during the three decades of unchallenged dominance of the Congress in Karnataka, only three Chief Ministers completed their term: K.C. Reddy, S. Nijalingappa and Devaraj Urs. K.C. Reddy had the advantage of being the first Chief Minister after Independence; and the last, Devaraj Urs, the extraordinary conditions that prevailed during the Emergency.
This has not been the case post-Emergency, when the State had five Congress-led governments — including one led by S. Bangarappa who has gone through a veritable odyssey of political journeys including a stint with the BJP. Only one of these, led by S.M. Krishna, was able to complete its term. The BJP has exploited this instability, and the deep desire of the urban middle classes for stability, by presenting itself as the very symbol of political rectitude and stability.
There is little doubt about the incompetence, and worse aspects, of the first BJP government in Karnataka, now in its third year. Its very beginnings when the BJP had not won an absolute majority of seats in the 224-seat Legislative Assembly but managed to form the government, invested the government with a measure of illegitimacy.
However, given the State's depoliticised polity, beset metaphorically with too many circuses, the political mobilisation against such a regressive political formation has had very little that is political about it. Instead, it too looks like a circus. Consistent with the Congress culture to which the JD(S) too is heir, the mobilisation has always looked like yet another attempted palace coup that was a feature of the rearranging of the deck chairs during the years of Congress dominance. Only this explains the constant visitations upon the Raj Bhavan, routinely described as ‘courtesy calls'. The leader of the Congress Legislature Party routinely calls for the resignation of the Chief Minister, sometimes imploring the BJP Legislature Party to ditch Mr. Yeddyurappa and elect a new (BJP) leader in his place. It is almost as if the problems faced by the people of the State are not the doing of the BJP but of one individual.
In the last three years of the BJP government, one has not come across a single mass public rally anywhere in the State by any opposition party seeking to expose the corruption, and worse acts, of the BJP government. No political party seems to want to “go to the people.” This does contrast with the kind of political mobilisation that takes place routinely on matters of public polity in faraway Assam. There, the separatist insurgent outfit, the United Liberation Front of Asom, still outlawed though its leaders are on bail and freely moving about in the State, is now planning to hold State-wide political conventions to seek opinion and guidance from the people on its three-decade-long struggle for sovereignty.