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'Siddaramaiah gave BJP 104 seats'

Last updated on: May 18, 2018 23:31 IST

'What prevents a Congress MLA who has fought only the JD-S throughout from saying he cannot obey the party'
'I don't think the Supreme Court can direct him to do what the party tells him to do.'
'We shouldn't be surprised if the Congress begins to break down in various constituencies.'
'The BJP is being ugly.'
'They have control in 22 states. They should have let this play out.'
'The BJP should have shown some patience and grace.'

 

IMAGE: Former Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah. Photograph: Kind courtesy SiddaramaiahOfficial on Facebook

Prakash Belawadi, political analyst, activist, actor and theatre personality, is an astute observer of Karnataka politics.

"'The BJP had no traction in Karnataka and Siddaramaiah would have scraped through if he had not done all that he did," Belawadi tells Rediff.com's Shobha Warrier.

As someone living in Karnataka, how do you look at the political developments in the state?

To understand the present situation, we have to go back a little.

For the last 20, 30 years, there has been a hardening of caste lines among the electorate in Karnataka, with the Lingayat and the Vokkaliga at the top of the pyramid, the other backward castes below them and the Muslims and the Dalits after that.

If we go back to the linguistic division of the state in 1956, in the south of Karnataka, the princely Old Mysore, the Vokkaligas were the dominant community.

There was always some trepidation among them that the unification would mean a shift of the centre of gravity towards north Karnataka, dominated by the Lingayats.

In those days, some Vokkaligas had even expressed anxiety about this. And there has been mutual suspicion between the two communities.

Siddaramaiah comes from a very hardcore anti-dynastic background. He was groomed during the period of Ramakrishna Hegde who became the chief minister in 1983. He was strongly opposed to Sonia Gandhi also.

After the Janata Party split into various avatars, he went with Deve Gowda and enjoyed a lot of power under him.

Again, on the same question of dynastic politics, combined with Deve Gowda's caste-based politics -- as they were mainly Vokkaligas -- he left the party.

He then formed a politically strong caste group called AHINDA consisting of the minorities, the backward castes and the Dalits who together constitute 65% or more of the population in the state.

He demonstrated in Bangalore that he was a strong mass leader before he was sworn in as the chief minister of Karnataka.

The first two years of his as chief minister were lackadaisical and the only significant thing he did was doling out rice and other welfare schemes to poor people.

In his last six months as CM, in a desperate bid, he went back to his AHINDA agenda.

He had already commissioned a caste survey, as promised before he was sworn in, and the leaked numbers showed that together the Lingayats and Vokkaligas together did not even constitute 25% of the population while they were screaming that they form 40% of the population.

The leaked numbers also showed that the Dalits constitute 25%, 26%, the Muslims 13%, 14% and the Kurubas, to which he belongs, 7%. So, his calculation of AHINDA was quite correct.

This survey irritated both the Lingayats and the Vokkaligas.

But he did not stop at that. He meddled with something else; he appointed a committee which said that the Lingayats were not Hindus and this he recommended to the Union government, asking it to give the community a separate religion status.

Was he trying to play a political master stroke then?

Well, let's see how it turned out. I think it was a cynical move to cause some attrition in the vote bank of the Veerashaiva-Lingayat combination because they were substantially behind the BJP.

Anyway, he was not getting their votes, but he wanted to reduce the vote percentage of the BJP.

In Karnataka, the JD-S usually takes about 20% of the votes and Independents around 3% to 5%. So, actually the fight was for 75% to 76% of the vote share.

Whichever party crosses 37%-38% would get a majority in a triangular contest.

So, the understanding was that even if he could split the BJP's vote percentage by 1% or 2%, they would not make the government.

Didn't Siddaramaiah's move backfire? 

Let's see how it backfired.

His AHINDA base, the Dalits, the backward castes and the Muslims voted for the Congress which was 14% of the Muslim vote, 7% of his own community and 24% of the Dalit votes.

That's where the catch is, the Dalit votes were split among the three parties. He didn't get all of the Dalit votes.

Only some amount of Lingayat votes might have gone to him. That gave the Congress 38%.

But this base of the Congress is spread across all Karnataka, and the conversion of vote share to seats is not uniform.

The result is, the Lingayats -- which were a very powerful community, which could make or break governments -- could not make a government any more. That's why it backfired for the community.

Only a small percentage of Lingayats voted for the Congress and that has backfired.

Also, the Vokkaligas consolidated behind Deve Gowda. So, even with 18%, he could get nearly 40 seats.

So, the consolidation of AHINDA also backfired. It was not enough to get even 100 seats.

What will happen to Siddaramaiah now?

He was the sole leader of the Congress party in Karnataka. Even Rahul Gandhi was playing second fiddle to him.

Towards the end of the election campaign, he made it as a fight between himself and Narendra D Modi.

Unlike the leadership of the BJP -- which is a caste party in Karnataka constituting the Lingayats and the Brahmins -- and Siddaramaiah with AHINDA, Narendra D Modi spoke beyond caste and religion.

So, he got more traction. That's why the only person who came out unscathed after the elections is Modi.

Siddaramaiah has lost the election and this is the end of his political career.

Even if he is appointed as someone in Delhi, he will be lost in Delhi. Nobody will care for him.

It is like an IAS officer retiring; everything disappears in one day. I don't think his name will be mentioned in the papers three months from now.

Though Siddaramaiah tried to say there was no anti-incumbency, he lost one of the two seats and in the other seat, he scraped through. 16 of his ministers lost...

In Karnataka, there has always anti-incumbency voting in state elections.

In 1984, they voted for the Congress in the Lok Sabha, but in 1985, they voted for Ramakrishna Hegde in the asembly elections.

Ever since that time, no incumbent government was voted back.

Karnataka always voted differently for the state and the Centre.

The reason is, Karnataka always votes against the incumbent government. This was the case in many states as well.

In one year, after electing Siddaramaiah with 36.8% in 2013, it gave 44% votes to the BJP in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

He had to fight anti-incumbency, yes, but the fissures on caste lines created a tectonic shift.

The BJP had no traction in Karnataka and he would have scraped through if he had not done all that he did.

You mean, it was Siddaramaiah who gave the BJP a chance to win 104 seats?

Siddaramaiah gave the BJP 104 seats by polarising votes on religious lines -- Hindu and Muslim and Hindu and active non-Hindu voices.

Also, through caste polarisation of AHINDA and the rest.

When you pander to one community, the other community gets irritated.

Then, when you make fun of the cow and the treating of the cow as sacred, in your effort to belittle the Sangh Parivar and its obscurantism, you are hurting your normal voters too.

People in India tend to treat all objects with spiritual or divine value, especially in the rural areas.

So, the intellectualism of the debate may have hurt his own followers.

It is okay to make fun of the Sangh Parivar, but it is not okay to make fun of all Hindus. I think they did not understand the difference.

And a person who had declared himself as an atheist visiting temples continuously irritated people more.

Modi called them 'election Hindus' and people liked it.

The third big mistake he made was when he pitted himself against the Karnataka BJP and Yeddyurappa, in every survey, he came out as a bigger leader.

But towards the end, he put himself against Modi and that backfired.

Siddaramaiah turned irrelevant the moment elections were over.

Was Modi's campaigning in Karnataka the turning point in the elections?

I think so. Without Modi, they would not have crossed 100 seats.

Modi has proved that he can have traction in the south also and that he can actually appeal beyond language.

The Congress and the Janata Dal-Secular coming together after the elections: How will the voters look at this?

Throughout the elections, both Rahul and Siddaramaiah said the JD-S was the 'B team' of the BJP.

Siddramaiah said voting for the JD-S was actually voting for the BJP.

So, if you are a Congress MLA and your main rival is the JD-S in at least 50 constituencies and you have campaigned against the JD-S the entire period, how will you face the electorate now?

You are betraying the electorate and the promise made to them if you go and join hands with the party which was your enemy till now.

Was it not an opportunistic alliance just to keep the BJP away?

I would say they have a right to change their mind.

But the question is: What prevents an MLA who has fought only the JD-S throughout from saying he cannot obey the party when it goes against what he has done so far?

He had promised the voters that he would keep the JD-S out. He can now say I cannot betray my voters. What prevents an MLA from saying so?

I don't think the Supreme Court can direct him to do what the party tells him to do.

The Congress has landed its leaders in a quandary. We shouldn't be surprised if the Congress begins to break down in various constituencies.

Do you feel the implications of the two parties coming together are much more in reality?

Imagine if they form the government with 116 or 117 MLAs, which is just three more than the majority, I am sure they will hold the government to ransom.

How will these two parties face the people?

Will the coalition hold in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections?

Will the Congress work under Kumaraswamy's leadership?

Is the result against the Congress and for the BJP?

I cannot say it is for the BJP, but I can certainly say that it is against the Congress, against the government, for sure, and against the JD-S, for sure.

The Congress described the governor calling the BJP, the single largest party, a murder of democracy.

The governor is operating in the zone of discretion.

There is precedence in calling the single largest party and there is equally some precedence in calling a post-poll alliance.

If the Congress-JD-S can parade the 117 MLAs at Raj Bhavan and show to the Supreme Court, Yeddyurappa's claim will be overturned. (At the time of writing, the Supreme Court has called for a floor test on Saturday to settle the question).

But if the Congress had shown 117 signatures of the MLAs, the court, perhaps, would have agreed.

That means it never transpired. So, anything can happen.

The problem for the MLAs is facing the voters.

The BJP has significant presence only in 170 constituencies; they don't have a pan-Karnataka presence.

In most of the constituencies, it was solely a contest between the Congress and the JD-S.

What will happen when these two, the number one and number two, merge?

Even if they form a government, it will be unstable.

I feel the BJP should have let it play out and waited for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. They would have won a majority later.

Do you feel the BJP has made a mistake?

The BJP is being ugly.

Anyway, they have control in 22 states. They should have let this play out.

Anyway, the alliance will not last long; it is an irrational alliance.

It is not in the DNA of the Congress to play second fiddle. The BJP should have shown some patience and grace.

There is lack of grace in what the BJP is doing.

Shobha Warrier / Rediff.com