Beyond the Karnataka Verdict

Congress seems to have heaved an audible sigh of relief after winning the Karnataka assembly elections with an absolute majority. Karnataka was the only state in South India which first opened its door to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). And the saffron party was desperately trying to use Karnataka as a springboard to make its ‘Mission South’ successful. Now its ‘Mission South’ hits a roadblock. Instead of ‘Mission South’ it is now busy to save its ‘Mission North East’. If Congress is a dynasty-oriented party BJP can boast of being called an authoritarian enterprise run by a clique. Modi made so many road shows to attract voters during campaign but all their tricks failed. BJP has long been trying to communally polarise voters on a number of sensitive issues that affected the minority community people.

For the first time Congress openly declared that they would ban BJP’s frontal outfit Bajrang Dal–the main mischief-maker. And it paid dividends in a state otherwise supercharged with communal tensions for the last one year or so for more than one reason. In truth people don’t believe in Congress party’s vague secular noises. But their categorical statement about the Dal had some positive effect.

Surprisingly enough, Congress didn’t raise the Adani-factor related economic corruption at the top. Perhaps they played it safe with the corporate lobby. After all they need their blessings to bounce back at the centre. There is not much to cheer about the Karnataka verdict because the opposition has no desire to project a united face against the saffron party. Nor do they present any ideological and political alternative to BJP. What all they say about hate politics, divisive policies etc doesn’t matter much in the real world of massive unemployment, jobless growth and runaway inflation. Congress is essentially a Gandhi family owned party while BJP is a two-man power centric establishment. Regional parties are unlikely to play the second fiddle by accepting Congress party’s unchallenged leadership role despite their Karnataka victory. All regional parties are sovereign in their own way and their electoral calculus revolves around how much bargaining they may exert.

Congress is not challenging BJP’s economic agenda and yet it thinks it is a party that represents the poor. During campaign for the Karnataka assembly polls Congress sought to keep the narrative to local issues. They heavily banked on their five guarantees—Gruha Jyothi, Gruha Lakshmi, Anna Bhagya, Yuva Nidhi and Shakti—with the party leaders promising their immediate implementation if the party comes to power. But this much populism is no answer to the crisis that has gripped the economy and created hopelessness in society. They are replacing BJP’s right-wing populism with a kind of centrist populism. But people want jobs. They have no idea as to how to create jobs. Jobs cannot grow in the vacuum. Rahul Gandhi’s foot march is at best a public relations exercise having no long-term impact on voters. Euphoria over vote percentage will be over soon. And poll analysts will go back to their respective news rooms to dish out more post-mortem reports.

For one thing right-wing populism has not exhausted itself despite certain setbacks here and there. Far-right populism has emerged in recent years globally. Populists have managed to govern in seven European countries—Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Austria. It is a powerful political tendency in Latin America and Africa as well. So there is no panic in the Modi camp.

Right-wing populism has flourished in the absence of revolutionary solutions of the contradictions of the system. But in India the traditional left is so dependent on the Congress for their day to day existence that they can hardly fight the rise of right-wing populism on their own while the far left is wandering in ideological wilderness.


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Vol 55, No. 48, May 28 - Jun 3, 2023