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Home > India > News > Columnists > Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi

For BJP, Karnataka win more credible than Gujarat

May 25, 2008

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The Karnataka assembly election carries many messages, but the most resounding one is for Sonia Gandhi [Images]. The Congress high command, shorthand for Sonia Gandhi, has lost a bigger opportunity than her state party has lost in this election.

Within the party Sonia has a halo around her because she is considered a fair judge and acknowledged as a strong leader in the absence of any rival within the party. She is said to be the uniting factor for the Congress at the national level. But these facts and the fact of her being the Congress supremo are of no consequences to the people voting in Hagaribommanahalli or Bellary, defeating her party's nominees and giving a Southern victory, tastier-than-rasam, to the BJP.

In the last ten years, more so after the impact of the economic reforms have started penetrating cities and smaller towns, the states of India have accentuated their identity. Karnataka is a nation in itself. West Bengal is a country with few similarities to the national political ethos and Gujarat is not merely a 'region'. Sonia Gandhi has completely failed to understand this change.

This is her leadership's 16th defeat since the 2004 general election and it's sad to note that there are no signs of the Congress or its so-called high command learning any micro or macro lesson.

In 1998, when she took over as Congress president, her party was demoralised and drifting, but that fight for survival is long over. Sonia Gandhi and her party needs to quickly emerge from its phobia of disintegration and inject more inner democracy in state Congress units and in the functioning of the party's central headquarters on New Delhi's 24, Akbar road.

For her survival in power and for her party to be looked upon as a credible political party of substance Sonia Gandhi needs to change her formula for her family's political survival. The first change must be in her attitudes to the states of India.

What is sometimes derided as 'regional voters' are actually mainstream India's voters. The Congress should know that you are allowed to rule at the Centre by regional voters with a limited and focussed responsibility to take care of the cost of roti, kapda and makaan. The voters want the Centre to take care of the security of the borders of India. The disappointing results in food security and national security is making the Congress look weak in state elections.

The Congress's performance in New Delhi hit the Karnataka unit because terrorism is now a known devil in urban Karnataka. On the one hand, the Centre didn't perform in the area they were supposed to perform and on the other hand the BJP used a mix of terrorism, development and a credible leadership without making mistakes.

If this election is surely about the rejection of H D Deve Gowda, it is also worth noting that the BJP has not used the short cut of Hindutva to win the game. In one sense, the BJP's Karnataka victory is more credible than its Gujarat victory of last December.

When the Congress got just seven seats more than the BJP in the 2004 general election, Sonia Gandhi, by default or by fluke, got the great historical moment to raise her stature in the eye of every Indian. Now we can take stock and claim that in this entire exercise her party has not got what it deserved through her leadership.

The Congress' biggest folly is that the party at the top level does not accept the newest fact of India -- that the states are as powerful as the Centre and a state's identity has been accentuated in recent times.

Sonia Gandhi did not learn any lesson from Gujarat and stubbornly refused to name a candidate to lead the party in Karnataka.

The hackneyed and failed argument that the Congress do not announce its leader before an election is ridiculous. In quick changing India you can't ask voters to wait till the newly-elected MLAs select their leader. That concept speaks volumes about the Congress high command's understanding of the pace with which India is changing or wants to change.

In every crisis, every time when news breaks in metropolitan India, you need the articulate face of the state leadership to react. That void is dangerous when cell phones, television cameras and the Internet are constantly navigating public opinion in urban India.

In Karnataka clearly, too many cooks spoiled the broth for the Congress party. It is tiring to name all the leaders who were working on behest of the party high command. The baraat (wedding procession) was formed without the dulha (bridegroom).

S M Krishna was brought in from the cold, but he was not declared the chief ministerial candidate because he is an urban face and the Congress feared Mallikarjun Kharge and Dalit sentiments would go against him.

As I write this analysis, Congress party spokesman Abhishek Singhvi is telling television viewers that the most remarkable part of the BJP victory is that its nominees won in reserved constituencies too. Once the issue of communalism does not exist in the political battlefield the Congress loses the distinct advantage of secular votes. Then, in the absence of a single leader at the top, the khichdi of many vested interests pulls the party in many directions.

Since B S Yediyurappa, the BJP's chief ministerial candidate, is a Lingayat, there was a serious possibility of the Vokkaligas turning away from the BJP, but the party's central leadership didn't think twice in projecting him as its leader in Karnataka.

The likes of Arun Jaitely play a powerful and sometime shrewd role on such issues in the BJP. Jaitley and Co park themselves at the state party headquarters, keep at bay the spoilers and adhere to the pre-decided political focus. This time in Karnataka, Jaitely kept a sharp eye on not hurting Vokkaliga sentiment.

The Congress high command failed miserably in understanding what the BJP was doing in Karnataka. The BJP's top leadership was led by state leaders' advice and not the other way round. Is this possible in the Congress party when decisions are only taken at Sonia Gandhi's home at 10, Janpath and not at 24, Akbar road or in Bangalore?

There is no alternative available to Sonia Gandhi but to share the limelight with her party's regional leaders, on the dais and at every decision-making level. She needs to lower her stature a bit or she should bring up a state party chief closer to, if not equal, to her level in the political process.

For the last three four years, L K Advani has shared a platform with Narendra Modi [Images] gracefully, without visible reluctance. His one time protege draws more crowds these days than than him, but for Advani it is advantage BJP. He has handled Modi's popularity with a positive mindset. If any regional leader gains personal clout the Congress party does everything to cut him or her to size. Ask Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dixit.

When everyone knew that the BJP was consolidating itself in Karnataka, why in January-February 2006 did 10, Janpath not do everything possible to maintain the alliance with the Janata Dal-Secular? When H D Kumaraswamy, Deve Gowda's son, was blackmailing the party to become chief minister the Congress high command should have been flexible.

The Congress's debacle in Karnataka began on February 9, 2006, the day Kumaraswamy won the confidence vote in the state assembly with the BJP's help.

The BJP got the time, motivation and momentum to create history.


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