Karnataka’s new chief minister and BJP’s state president B.S. Yediyurappa had been brazen about being able to form the government in the state all along — as far back as in March. After having taken oath as the chief minister Friday, Yediyurappa, with a new spelling if not a new name, will also likely form the BJP-led government Monday after the trust vote in the assembly.
The 13 Congress and three JD(S) legislators, along with two Independents, that the BJP managed to bring on its side — how, it’s anybody’s guess — were going to help the saffron party form the government when they had resigned earlier this month. And they are going to do so even now, when they stand disqualified by Speaker K.R. Ramesh Kumar.
What does it mean? Is Karnataka going to be a template for brazen auctioning of legislators? And should we outsource the auctioning in that case?
Congress’ next move
Before we figure out whether our legislators can be auctioned in, say, Sotheby’s or not, it would be of some use to explore where our ‘internal’ system of trade stands. Will, or rather should, the Congress counter the BJP strategy through a ‘buy back’ approach?
The 17 MLAs’ disqualification ends any possibility of their turnaround benefitting the Congress. So, unless the Congress can show that it is in the power game with sizeable stakes, it will not be able to influence the lawmakers’ “democratic” behaviour. It is a straight forward ‘Pavlovian conditioning” strategy, in which the crumbs will come only after the bell has been rung. But for that experiment too, Russian physiologist needed his salivating dog. The point is that the Congress cannot be helped.
Yet, one cannot completely rule out other behavioural games. Rivalries within the BJP — further inflamed by jealousies, hatred, and ambitions — can come into play and benefit help the Congress. These characteristics can break any monolith. There are at all times, in all ruling parties, Brutus-like characters sharpening their knives. Usually, they make swift, sudden moves. Who knows, some Kannadiga Brutus is hiding behind the curtains.
What history tells us
Not long ago, our own vintage Brutus, the veritable Charan Singh, withdrew support to Morarji Desai in 1979. Desai had a solid majority in the Janata Party-led government, but Charan Singh wanted to become the prime minister. That was his lifelong ambition. So he took support of the Congress, which then had far too few seats in the Lok Sabha, not enough to topple Morarji Desai’s government.
Of all the parties and personalities, Charan Singh’s Sancho Panza, Raj Narain, struck a deal with Indira Gandhi, until then arch-enemy of the Janata Party. The stable and strong Janata government collapsed, forcing a mid-term election, which brought back Indira Gandhi with a thumping majority the following year.
It is quite openly said in Karnataka’s capital city, Bengaluru, that B.S. Yediyurappa has a few ambitious rivals. Some of them blessed by no less than party president Amit Shah himself. They carry the potential of playing the role of Kannada Brutus. Karnataka, historically, has had a rich theatre culture; Shakespeare could well have taken a few ideas from here while writing Julius Caesar.
The difference between 1979 and 2019, however, is that Indira Gandhi then had Sanjay Gandhi to help her ace the battle. The Congress has no one today who can play the roulette and win. But that also does not mean that the ambitious rivals with competing money bags will not write their own parallel script. The Congress can benefit, if at all, in that scenario without itself doing anything. That can happen without taking any ‘predatory’ support from any of its leaders.
Unfortunately, Indian politics has been reduced only to this type of legislative “kabaddi”. The NDA, or the BJP for that matter, has not given a clear vision of their politics. They play the same “welfarist” tune and practice neo-liberalism. This has angered the true “neo-liberals”. When they cannot announce any genuine structural reform, the party allows its affiliates to run amok with lynchings and ‘love jihad’.
Modi’s ‘new’ India
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has so far grandiosely spoken about the so-called “New India”. But the radical Hindutva followers believe Modi’s ‘New India’ means a Hindu Rashtra. On the other hand, the followers of Jagdish Bhagwati are advocating denationalisation of banks, selling off the profit-making public sector units, and implementing the proposed labour reforms.
As a result, the central government is virtually paralysed. The finance secretary (Subhash Chandra Garg) has had to put in his papers, opting for voluntary retirement a full year before the end of his service. BJP MPs (including some ministers of the NDA) say in hush-hush tones that since there is no clear roadmap, they depend on the party high command, which effectively means Narendra Modi and Amit Shah.
The so-called ‘five trillion dollar economy’ cannot be an agenda or a dream or the vision for a ‘New India’ But the so-called “influential” media has not insisted on precisely explaining to the masses the programmes that will be undertaken in this ‘New India’. It cannot be crafted with fake figures and demagogic slogans. Nor can it be achieved by deploying Karnataka-style trickery or by making India “Congress-mukt”.
If the Congress gets trapped into playing the same “game of thrones”, then it will lose this too, and hurt itself more badly at a time when its credibility is already on a decline. If the Congress really believes in the philosophy of love and compassion, as pronounced by Rahul Gandhi, and wants to pursue the ethical approach and practice moral politics, then it must eschew the so-called “art of the possible” and the populist theory that “everything is sanctioned in war and love”. If it does not practice what it preaches, then even without Narendra Modi, there would be a “Congress-mukt Bharat.
The author is a former editor and Congress member of Rajya Sabha. Views are personal.