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'The BJP indirectly raised Hindutva'
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May 25, 2008

It is a disappointing day for Congress leader Prithviraj Chavan who was in charge of the Karnataka elections. Sitting in his upgraded barrack-type cottage at 24 Akbar road, the Congress party headquarters in New Delhi, he was sifting through statistics and papers. Outside his office the air was mournful and inside his office journalists were quizzing him.

Certainly, the Congress was not expecting to win more than 100 seats, an Intelligence Bureau report had actually said the Congress won't get more than 80 seats. Also, party leaders in New Delhi knew that district-level infrastructure was not in place in Karnataka but before they could appoint party office-bearers Chief Election Commissioner N Gopalaswami announced the election. State Congress leaders wanted it around September but the CEC spoiled the game for them. State leaders were of the opinion that delayed election would dilute the sympathy factor in favour of BJP leader B S Yeddyurappa.

The final results show that terrorism and price rise surely affected the Congress's prospects but the central leadership will obviously not say so.

Managing Editor Sheela Bhatt managed to ask a few questions to Chavan on losing Karnataka and gifting the first-ever South Indian state to the BJP.
What are the main reasons behind losing in Karnataka?

One reason is that our secular votes are still getting divided. Although we have got more percentage of votes, the BJP has got more seats. It happened in 2004 and it has happened now. We have increased our seats from 65 to 80. We have also increased our vote percentage by two per cent. The BJP increased its vote percentage in areas where they were already strong and where they have strongly projected their Lingayat chief minister and consolidated the Lingayat votes.

Primarily, the division of secular votes was the factor in our defeat.

Did the Bahujan Samaj Party play spoilsport?

I don't know what percentages of votes the BSP got, they have failed to get a single seat.

Before the elections everybody was aware of the division of secular votes. Why could a new strategy not be devised?   

It became a three-cornered fight. In the first phase there were three-party contests. It didn't turn out to be JD-S wins but it reflected in Congress losses.

Don't you think you should have named a candidate for the CM's post?

No, no.. that's not correct. In 2004, we had S M Krishna as our leader, we still lost the battle and we came down much less than 100 seats, to 65. There are advantages and disadvantages in projecting a leader. We wanted to project the broad social coalition on the strength of the Congress. We avoided projecting one community leader because if his community gets consolidated other communities can get demoralised. 

The BJP is projecting this victory as a turnaround, a kind of milestone in its history.

Well, the BJP has been making inroads in Karnataka for sometime now. Yes, it has done well. Both of us campaigned for a stable government. They got more benefit out of it. As long as there are more than two parties there will be instability. In my opinion Karnataka will remain unstable for a long time. We wish we will get the two-party system soon.

Do you think it's a historic moment for the BJP?

I am sure the BJP will be rejoicing. They have every right to rejoice. I congratulate them. But, I think this cannot be replicated at the national level nor can one draw inferences for the future.

All kinds of analysts have said that losing Karnataka will have a far-reaching impact.

I won't say that. We have lost Karanataka which is a significant state but we remain an important entity. The local issues played a role. In Karnataka every districts had its own issues.

Was price rise an issue?

The BJP raised the issue of price rise. Two-three indices were released which indicated an upward trend. The BJP went to town with these numbers. We tried to explain that there is pressure of oil price, food prices. Our management of economy is better than the NDA's. I don't know what impact price rise had on voters.

Besides that the BJP focused on terrorism. They talked about POTA being withdrawn, Afzal Guru not being hanged and of course, the Jaipur blasts happened. I am not sure to what extent the issue of terrorism affected us. The BJP only took up these two issues. There was anti-incumbency in some way. We ruled for 20 months but could not perform because of coalition compulsions.

In this election the BJP didn't raise Hindutva. Right?

They indirectly raised the Hindutva issue by raising the matter of terrorism! They tried to target a particular community alleging that they are responsible for terrorism. If you compare the record of the BJP and NDA government they have a pathetic record of tackling terrorism, still they kept on talking about the recent incidents. They had no other issue to talk about because their performance in the Karnataka government was pathetic so they kept talking about national issues in the assembly elections.

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