Will Karnataka mark the turning of the tide in Indian politics?

After Karnataka, however, the BJP may be wary of going down that path when the world will be watching Modi’s forthcoming steps in the run-up to the 2024 general election 

Amulya Ganguli May 15, 2023
Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi election campaigning in Karnataka (Photo: Youtube)

India's governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) may have been taken aback by two conflicting results from two different parts of the country – Uttar Pradesh in the north and Karnataka in the south. While UP has reaffirmed the Hindutva stranglehold of the hardline Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, Karnataka has sent a diametrically opposite message as enunciated by opposition Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s longstanding plea in favour of the Congress’s gameplan for upholding the politics of "mohhbbat", or love, as opposed to the BJP’s politics of "nafrat", or hate.

As the electoral downsizing of the BJP’s communal tactics of emphasizing hijab or halal or Tipu Sultan in Karnataka showed, polarizing is losing its appeal for the saffron crowd. It is too early to say whether this turning away from Islamophobia is a temporary phase or contains the roots of the politics of hate as in U.P. But there is little doubt that for the present, Karnataka has dealt a crushing blow to the majoritarian rightwing lobby.

Congress on comeback trail?

It is up to the Congress to sustain the present momentum. To achieve such a feat, the party will have to repeat its Karnataka feat in the next round of assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh. If the rousing response to Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo yatra earlier in Madhya Pradesh is a sign, as it has been in Karnataka, then the Grand Old Party can be said to be on a comeback trail, negating its recent lacklustre performances.

For such a turnaround, the Congress will have to bank heavily on its Karnataka leadership carrying on from where it left off after routing the BJP. At the same time, the Siddaramaiah-D.K Shivakumar duo will have to persuade the Kamal Nath-Digijyay Singh team in Madhya Predesh to forget their mutual rivalry in order to take on the BJP.

Even as the Congress tries to avoid its customary infighting, the BJP’s focus may well be on slipping back to the venom of nafrat. The U.P. results are a warning signal. If the Narendra "Modi-Amit Shah pitch on the targeting of Muslims on the grounds of the Congress’s policy of "tustikaran" (appeasement) is to make any headway outside of U.P., then the BJP’s polarization card will be expected to be on full display. The arch-villain in this context is the so-called “bulldozer baba” or Yogi Adittynath with his penchant for demolishing Muslim homes.

After Karnataka, however, the BJP may be wary of going down that path when the world will be watching Modi’s forthcoming steps in the run-up to the 2024 general election. Adityanath will not quite be the role model in this respect. It’s going to be a tightrope walk for the BJP, therefore, as Karnataka has rung a bell against the party’s anti-Muslim ploy which the saffron brotherhood has used ever since it targeted the Babri masjid for destruction in the late 1990s in order to teach the Muslims a lesson.

Is hard Hindutva support declining?

If that period of Hindutva history is coming to an end, it may well mark the beginning of the turning of the tide. The vicious political phase of the BJP, which characterized the secular camp as anti-national, could be drawing to an end.

Arguably, the nation had to witness such a dark phase as Germany did in the 1930s, making civilizational values take a back seat while murderous fascist forces ran amok. But good sense is bound ultimately to prevail as the forces of evil may begin to retreat. But it is probably too early to rejoice.

The use of anti-Muslim rhetoric has been a century-old feature of the RSS-BJP and is not going to die away soon. The only answer lies in the Congress building on its Karnataka base and drawing other secular parties to its fold. But like the squabbles in the Congress’ own ranks, dissent among its prospective partners driven by their egos and jealousy can be a damaging factor that will benefit the BJP.

It's a long road ahead, therefore, which will require the Congress’s statesmanship qualities to be in full fear in tandem with their other secular parties. There is also a need for Rahul Gandhi to show the mettle that he did during the Bharat Jodo Yatra (Unite India March) along with regional political friends like M.K. Stalin, chief minister of Tamil Nadu, and Supriya Sule, Maharashtra opposition leader, daughter of Sharad Pawar, the NCP leader and opposition stalwart. 

In the meantime, the BJP may swing back and forth between cultivated moderation and ingrained Islamophobia. The victor will be those whose sincerity and commitment to interfaith harmony will be beyond reproach.

(The author is a political analyst. Views are personal)

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