This Article is From May 21, 2018

BJP, Stung And Bitter, Will Try To Exact Revenge In Karnataka

It wasn't eight votes that the BJP fell short of in Karnataka but 8,000. That's the combined margin for 7 seats that the BJP lost. Ranging from just 215 votes in Maski to 1,989 votes in Sringeri, the BJP suffered more small-margin losses than the Congress. (The Congress, in fact, scraped home with majorities under 2,500 in nine seats.)

It is these small losses that stopped the BJP from matching its 2008 total of 110 seats, a number that would have seen them easily form the government. So in a sense, the BJP lost this election because despite the best efforts of Narendra Modi, he could not drag the party over the winning line. And this is being seen as the 'defeat' of the Modi-Shah combine. For Amit Shah, it must be galling that after having done a complete "Karnataka Darshan", including dropping in at every single matt possible, the numbers did not fall his way. That's one way of looking at it, the other to say that without the the 10-day blitz by Modi at the very end, the BJP would have been confined to double digits, as predicted by  all polls prior to May 1.

The bigger loss for the BJP has been the loss of face in the post-election shenanigans. While the BJP successfully pulled off similar coups in states like Goa, Meghalaya and Nagaland where media and public attention was limited and horse-trading simple, under the 24x7 scrutiny bestowed on Karnataka,  the attempts to "buy" power exposed the BJP as being just another party. The sheen of being clean, incorruptible was being tarnished in real time, not least by their own spokesmen claiming that they would rustle up the numbers if given time. The public isn't stupid enough to believe that law-makers would cross the floor for the love of BJP. The stench of moneybags has hurt and much repair work needs to be done by the BJP to not be classified as another Congress party.

If the BJP lost moral ground, Governor Vajubhai Vala emerged as a sort of villain. Nothing he did seemed fair and above board. Having met B S Yeddyurappa first thing in the morning, he did not deny the claim that he would be sworn in the next morning by 9, giving credence to the fact that he had already decided what he was going to do. The claim that he never saw the list of JD(S)-Congress MLAs that the party leaders brought to his residence is just bunkum. And even if he did not see it, what stopped him from asking for it? At 8.30 pm, he announced that Yeddyurappa would get first bite. Obviously, this was done with the hope that the Congress-JD(S) would not be able to move the courts prior to the 9 am swearing (before the courts open). The window of 15 days given for the trust vote just added more muck. A governor has to exercise discretion, has to apply his mind, not look for rats in the sewer.

Governor Vajubhai Vala had announced that BS Yeddyurappa would get first shot at forming government

If the Governor stinks, the Supreme Court seems to have come through this ordeal smelling of roses. It not only heard the late-night appeal of the Congress but also reduced to two days the time allowed to Yedyurappa to prove his strength.

And that certainly cut the blood supply to the BJP horse-trading. But did it do enough? Has it not left the door open for repeat performances in the future? Isn't it time the country's top court laid down clearly what is to be done in such circumstances? It can't be that difficult -  just say it's pre-poll alliance, post-poll alliance, single - largest party or any other ordering it deems fit. Similarly, wasn't it disingenuous on the question of whether the senior-most MLA should preside as the Speaker for the trust vote, or whether this should be left to the Governor's discretion? Maybe it's asking a court to do a lot in such a short space and time. Maybe the that political parties need to raise these issues again and ask for a constitutional bench to give some finality to the Governor's discretion.

For Congress, this has been a hit-and-miss affair. It lost the assembly elections despite getting the largest number of votes. This clearly shows that there was a lack of planning. The consolidation of both Lingayat and Vokkaliga votes to the BJP and JD(S) shows that the Congress blew whatever support it had in these communities because of Siddaramaiah's policies. But the speed with which the Congress acted once the results came in showed a nimbleness long considered impossible for the party. That it surrendered the Chief Minister-ship is a huge thing, one that has sent a message to all opposition parties that the Congress is open for business and is willing to take a backseat if necessary to keep the BJP out of power. They need to keep this belief going by making sure the coalition government does not fall because of disagreements or their inability to keep their folk together.
kumaraswamy pti

HD Kumaraswamy and the JD(S) have emerged as the biggest winners in Karnataka assembly elections

The biggest winner is of course H D Kumaraswamy and the JD(S). They have fulfilled their pre-poll prediction of emerging not as king-makers but King. But it will be a crown of thorns. There is much angst within Kumaraswamy's party and the Congress about this alliance. And there will be many pin-pricks to be dealt with on a daily basis. And he should be wary of a stung BJP which still has the money and now the desire to exact revenge.

For most Indians, this election is probably less about Karnataka than about 2019. And while it may hold some auguries for the national election, those should not be over-emphasised. The alliance should, if the government survives, help pave the way for more teamwork in the coming months between the Congress and regional parties, especially the BSP in MP and Rajasthan. The support from Telangana and Andhra Pradesh during this saga may also see some unlikely alliances.

For the BJP, all is not lost. Those who discount the Modi effect do it at their peril. He remains a very potent campaigner and can lift the party and its votes considerably. The BJP has five months to throw more goodies at the electorate including the universal medical policy before the tournament begins in Central India in November.

(Ishwari Bajpai is Senior Advisor at NDTV.)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.