The sordid drama enacted by the BJP in Karnataka has finally come to an end with the ignominious exit of its three-day Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa. His downfall was a foregone conclusion unless, as the BJP leaders camping in Bengaluru were claiming, its recourse to the most shameless act of poaching other parties' MLAs succeeded. Since that did not happen because the MLAs refused to be bought, the exercise sank into the septic tank. Yet the Karnataka episode will go down in as one of the sorriest chapters in our democratic history.
The campaign for the assembly elections was bitter in itself. The Prime Minister threw all decency to the winds, as he did during the Gujarat assembly elections, and attacked his rivals in a language which did not behoove his high office. His charge that Generals Cariappa and Thimaiyya were insulted by the then Congress regime fell short of facts. It was also in bad taste.
After the bitterly fought elections, the results produced a hung assembly. The BJP emerged as the single largest party with 104 seats; the Congress party's tally come down from 122 to 78 and the JD(S) was placed third with 38 seats. The BJP was seven short of majority in a house of 221 because elections were postponed in two assembly seats and Kumaraswami had won from two seats.
With the help of a pliant media, the BJP's seat tally was projected as an unprecedented victory and Modi and Shah were shown as great heroes of the electoral battlefield. Let us look at some cold facts to see whether this indeed was an exceptional performance by the BJP.
The 2018 election can and should be compared only with the 2008 election because in 2013, Yeddyurappa had split the BJP, formed a new party and contested the elections under its banner. This had reduced the BJP's tally to only 40 seats in the assembly. In the 2013 election, the Congress party had won 122 seats and secured a clear majority in the 224-member assembly. Its vote share was 36.6%. It formed the government with Siddharamaiah as the Chief Minister.
Let us go back to 2008 with which alone a valid comparison can be made between the performance of the Congress party and BJP. In that year, the BJP had won 110 seats with a vote share of 33.86%. The Congress party had won only 86 seats but with a higher vote share of 35.3%. Modi and Shah were nowhere on the scene then as far as the Karnataka elections were concerned. Yet the BJP won 110 seats. Do you remember anyone shouting from the housetops about the sterling leadership qualities of Rajnath Singh and his superb management skills as he was the party president then? It was celebrated as a significant victory no doubt, as for the first time, the BJP came to power on its own south of the Vindhyas. The BJP then was only three seats short of the majority mark.
Today's Chanakya and Chandragupta of the BJP have not been able to replicate the victory of 2008, much less surpass it. Yet, they are the greatest ever.
A majority of the observers of the Karnataka scene in this election were predicting that the Congress party had an edge in the elections. And they were right,because the party was able to improve its share of votes from 36.6% in 2103 to 38% in 2018. But it lost out on the number of seats. The BJP's strike record was better than that of the Congress party in 2008 also, as it was in the Lok Sabha elections in 2014 in which it was able to win more seats with a smaller percentage of the votes than its rivals.
It's campaign ethics apart, the BJP covered itself with mud immediately after the announcement of the results. It was the single-largest party no doubt, but still seven short of a majority. But the Congress party acted with alacrity and quickly offered the Chief Ministership to HD Kumaraswamy, the leader of Janta Dal(S). They even informed the governor of this post-poll alliance which had a clear majority in the assembly as together they had 116 members. The two independent members also pledged support to this combination.
The governor, an old BJP/RSS man from Gujarat, acting in utter disregard of the principle on which the BJP came to power in Goa, Manipur, Meghalaya and Bihar, and formed the government in Jammu and Kashmir, rejected the claim of the Congress-JDS combine, and in a stunning move which defied all logic invited the BJP leader Yeddyurappa in the late evening of May 17 to take oath as Chief Minister the next morning. This was clearly meant to pre-empt any court intervention. Further, he gave Yeddyurappa 15 days to prove his majority on the floor of the House. It's another matter that the Supreme Court agreed to hear the petition of the Congress-JD(S) combine during the night itself and while it did not stop Yeddyurappa from taking oath, it ordered in a subsequent hearing on May 18 itself, to reduce the period of the floor test from 15 days to 24 hours. It also ordered that the pro-tem speaker would conduct the floor test in full glare of the media.
All these moves were clearly being orchestrated from Delhi by the Modi-Shah team. This was in accordance with the new doctrine in the BJP that elections must be won at any cost. Ethical considerations, norms and traditions of democracy do not matter. Further, even if BJP does not get a majority, it must form the government by hook or by crook. Yet the spokespersons of the BJP will climb the pulpit and preach sermons to others on ethics and morality.
On May 19, Shanta Kumar, one of the senior-most leaders of the BJP announced that he would not contest the next Lok Sabha election. When asked about the goings-on in Karnataka, he said that in 1982, the BJP had won 29 seats in the Himachal Pradesh assembly elections and the Congress Party had won 31. Six independent MLAs were ready to support the BJP to form the government. Atal Bihari Vajpayee had then announced that the BJP would sit in the opposition rather than resort to horse-trading. Where is that BJP today?
Unfortunately, today's BJP is not the BJP of Atal-Advani, which I had joined. It has been taken over by people to whom nothing matters more than power. I am glad I am out of it.
The political mood in the country has changed dramatically after the events of Karnataka. It has shown that the BJP can be outwitted at its own game. The ball is now squarely in the court of the parties in opposition.
Yashwant Sinha, former BJP leader, was Minister of Finance (1998-2002) and Minister of External Affairs (2002-2004)
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