Monday, May 6, 2013

Political Pilgrims .... Power & Politics/The Sunday Standard/ May 5, 2013

Political pilgrims rarely understand the agony of those who actually vote

Elections don’t decide the fate of politicians alone.  Nowadays, electoral verdicts too define or demolish the image of many self-appointed political astrologers, number-crunchers, opinion-makers, spin doctors and even master strategists of various political parties. Such a fate awaits many of them as the Karnataka Assembly election results are expected on Wednesday.
Of course, the flavour of the month seems to be the Congress party. Since opinions are disseminated as news, and real news as mere speculation, Karnataka is going to be a real test case for the media and scores of byte smiths-turned-TVrattis of every colour and conviction. Karnataka will either explode or reinforce the general belief that now it is leaders, and not parties, who win elections in the states. Karnataka is perhaps the only state in which the battle is between individuals and a faceless national party. Unlike many other states which went to the polls recently, Karnataka’s voters will have to choose between two national and two regional parties. 
If we go by the opinion polls, the odds are heavily stacked against both the BJP and Janata Dal(S) led by former prime minister H D Deve Gowda and his son, former chief minister H D Kumaraswamy. The opinion that both are doomed has been further strengthened by anecdotes from political pilgrims on seasonal visits to the state. Such pilgrimages to election-bound states have always been aimed at finding space for a brahminical order dominated by the Congress culture. In UP last year, armed with opinion polls or ground reports, the soothsayers were pushing the idea of a Congress-supported SP-led government. In the end, Samajwadi Party won an absolute majority, with the Congress barely in fourth position. 
Since these political augurs hardly understand the local language or the agony of those who actually vote, they end up meeting only those who fall in the category of “me, mine and my type”. B S Yeddyurappa and Kumaraswamy are alien to their culture. It is only the likes of foreign-educated S M Krishna and his ilk who represent the voice and pulse of the people—they are the only ones who understand the idiom of communication and dictate the narrative of electoral politics.
There is no doubt that the BJP provided Karnataka with one of the most corrupt governments ever. It is also a fact that the Gowdas are shining examples of political opportunism. But both parties won or lost elections because of individuals and not ideology. On the contrary, the Congress has an ideology but doesn’t have a leader who can be trusted to provide a strong leadership to steer the state out of the mess. On the other hand, local voters know the three chief ministerial contenders—Kumaraswamy, Jagdish Shettar and Yeddyurappa. According to television reports, almost all local leaders have been drawing crowds bigger than most national leaders. Manmohan Singh’s Bangalore meeting was delayed for half an hour because there weren’t enough crowds. Barring Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi, hardly any national leader made his presence felt in the state.
Since the Congress has been out of power for almost a decade now in Karnataka, it is finding it difficult to project any leader. All its honchos like Krishna, Veerappa Moily, Mallikarjun Kharge and others don’t enjoy pan-Karnataka acceptability and have been out of active state politics. But the pollsters parrot that Karnataka is turning out to be an exception and its people may vote for a national party, but not a regional leader. In more than half the states such as Punjab, Jammu and Kashmir, West Bengal, Odisha, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Delhi, Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Himachal Pradesh and even Pudducherry, the electorate has always voted for a leader who was projected as future CM. Moreover, wherever the choice was between an incumbent national and a local party, the voters have always defeated the former and chosen the latter. For example, in 1989, the Congress decided to go it alone in Tamil Nadu under G K Moopanar’s leadership, but it was the DMK that came to power.
In Karnataka too, the undivided Janata Dal led by Deve Gowda defeated the Congress in 1995 to form the government. So, poll predictions in favour of the Congress not only indicate a trend that is witnessed in the rest of the country but also contradict opinion polls. Almost all opinion polls have confirmed that Kumaraswamy is the most popular candidate for the Karnataka chief ministership followed by Yeddyurappa. According to the prognosticators, however, the Congress would get the maximum votes. The BJP and JD(S) are solidly backed by two dominant communities—the Vokkaligas and Lingayats—while none of Karnataka’s major communities back the Congress. Even in 2008, it polled the highest percentage of votes, but it was BJP that won a near majority with fewer votes. For the Congress to win an absolute majority, it will have to break the caste and community coalition, which is heavily positioned against it at the moment.
There are many more flaws and inconsistencies in political astrology. For example, there appears to be a strong anti-incumbency wave against the BJP, but less against the chief minister. Similarly, there is hardly any negative outrage against Kumaraswamy, who is perceived as one of the most decisive chief ministers the state has seen in recent times. The Karnataka verdict has a bigger significance for national politics. Besides deciding the survival of the UPA in Delhi, it will also define the future contours of national politics. A Congress victory in Karnataka would mean the erosion of regional parties and the downfall of local satraps. A mutilated Hand would cripple a 120-year-old party and its ability to retain  authority.

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