Karnataka elections 2023: Defeat of hate in India
From the secular Bharat Jodo Yatra to the Karnataka elections, Indian civil society groups have played an important role. One does look forward to civil society groups committed to the rights of weaker sections of society playing a similar role in forthcoming elections to ensure that the country comes back to the path and idea of India envisaged by the freedom movement and the Constitution of India.
The results of the Karnataka assembly election have not only come as a big relief but also may herald the change for the journey towards a united India and retrieving the values of the Indian Constitution which have come under severe strain during the last few years.
In the Karnataka assembly election results of 2018, BJP got 104; Congress got 80 and JDU 37 seats. The Congress-JDU government, which was formed, was destabilized by Operation Lotus (a euphemism for buying over elected representatives by the BJP), and the BJP government was formed. This time the Congress with 135 seats (43 per cent votes) and the BJP with 65 seats and 36 per cent vote share is far behind.
Karnataka was the southern state where BJP came in through issues like campaigning around Baba Budan Giri Dargah, (a Sufi shrine which was claimed to be a Hindu monastery) and through Hubli Idgah maidan. During the outgoing BJP regime, they brought in sensistive Muslim issues of hijab, azaan, and halal along with the stock in trade issues of BJP like the Ram Temple, beef and love jihad. And as if to help the BJP's efforts for coming back to power; ‘The Kerala Story',’ a propaganda film based on big lies, half-truths and plenty of lies, which was promoted by no less than the prime minister himself, was released just around these elections.
The BJP as usual began with the ‘Modi Magic’ strategy. Modi and his deputy, Amit Shah, spent a good deal of time in Karnataka holding road shows, rallies and meetings. They were merrily doing all this when Manipur, ruled by the BJP government, witnessed horrific violence with over 50 dead, thousands displaced and many Churches razed to the ground. During this there was not a single appeal of peace from the PM Modi; no visit to the troubled state to douse the fire.
As preparation for elections, they also tried to propagate a falsehood that Tipu Sultan, the popular folk hero of Mysore, was not killed by the British in the Fourth Anglo-Mysore War of 1799, but by two Vokaliggas, an influential local community. This was to play the game of Islamophobia and also to win over the Vokalligga vote. The move flopped very badly. Such manipulations of historical events are paying rich dividends to the BJP in North Indian states. But the BJP’s favorite game of using history as a tool for playing communal politics did not work here.
The campaign of the Congress came in the backdrop of big social movements. During this phase, the country saw the biggest protest by farmers against the farm laws brought by the central BJP government. This period also saw the attempt to disenfranchise Muslims through laws like NRC; CAA. This was followed by the remarkable Shaheen Bagh protests by Muslim women in Delhi and all over the country. These were the backdrop of the Bharat Jodo Yatra (Unite India March) began by Rahul Gandhi of Congress. The march was a remarkable success and along with the impact of farmer’s movements and Shaheen Bagh, it transformed the national scenario a great deal. The cross-country march talked of combating hate, exposing the BJP alliance with crony capitalists, and highlighting the issues of poverty, hunger, rising unemployment, and issues of Dalit, women and Adivasis.
The long march did change the image of Rahul Gandhi from the constructed image of "Pappu" (a derogatory colloquial meaning a dumb kid) to a mature humane politician concerned with the problems of average people and having no false ego of the politicians changing their dress every few hours and bloating their chest. The Congress promises were related to the welfare of the unemployed, women and poorer sections of society. The Congress talked of banning like the Hindu ultranationalist Bajrang Dal and Popular Front of India (PFI, a Muslim outfit already banned) for spreading hate and leading to violence.
Modi and the company were looking for such a handle in which they are experts. Modi immediately jumped to his favorite divisive tool. He shrewdly tried to equate Lord Hanuman, the one signifying devotion and strength to Bajrang Dal, whose manifesto calls for Hindu revolution through violent means. Many of whose leaders have been in the news in cases of violence. He used to end his rallies with the slogan of "Jai Bajrang Bali". Many felt that Congress has done a mistake by giving a divisive tool in the hands of those who are past masters in this game. Eventually, it turned out to be a bold move and called the communal bluff of the BJP. Congress leaders accused the BJP of equating Lord Hanuman with Bajrang Dal, as an insult to Lord Hanuman, a powerful deity, and hurting the feelings of millions of Hindus, which sounded very sane to many voters.
Impact on future politics
The Congress campaigned around the issues of the people while the BJP played the communal game to the hilt. The predictions and analysis of voting patterns of the election results show that Congress got a better response from poorer, low caste and village electorate, while BJP got support from the urban elite and upper caste in larger measure. Many analysts have focused more on the local Lingayat and Vokaligga community votes, while the pattern matches more with BJP being closer to the aspirations of upper caste, higher educated-high earning males.
Surely, these election results will have a strong impact on the future of politics in India. To begin with, the image of Rahul Gandhi and Congress will get a big morale boost. The propaganda that Modi is irreplaceable and BJP cannot be defeated will get a jolt. The communal methods of propaganda may get a real pushback if the lessons of the Karnataka elections are properly disseminated to the countrymen.
Another point that is becoming apparent is that if there is a straight fight between the BJP versus the rest, the BJP may bite the dust in the next general elections in 2024. These election results may boost the morale of those who are trying for the opposition to unite tor preserve the secular democratic ethos of the country.
And last but not least the role of civil society groups in the Karnataka election has been very significant. From the secular Bharat Jodo Yatra to the Karnataka elections, Indian civil society groups have played an important role. One does look forward to civil society groups committed to the rights of weaker sections of society playing a similar role in forthcoming elections to ensure that the country comes back to the path and idea of India envisaged by the freedom movement and the Constitution of India.
(The writer, a former IIT Bombay professor, is Chairman of, Centre for Study of Society and Secularism, Mumbai. Views are personal.)
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