Karnataka Assembly Elections 2023. Many refer to it as the ‘mother-of-all-elections’. In several ways it could be the defining moment of India’s political history: a watershed. Serious students of political sciences and of politics in general do not hesitate in asserting that a defeat for the BJP in the Karnataka elections would mean that the doors of democracy are still wide open for the overthrow of the fascist regime in the 2024 General Elections. On the other hand, a win for the BJP could be a roller-coast ride for them towards winning the stakes at the 2024 hustings and would, in all probability, hasten the realisation of their ultimate goal: Establishment of a nation-state based on the ‘Hindutva’ ideology.
It would then be the coronation, as the rulers of India, of their parent body the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in their centenary year 2025; an aspiration they have been hankering for, even during the days of the British Colonial rule. It is no state secret that the RSS had no qualms of conscience in supporting colonial rule; none of them apparently participated in the freedom struggle movement that gave India her independence in 1947.
There is much at stake in the Karnataka Elections. From the way they have been campaigning, the BJP is without doubt in despair-mode. Besides anti-incumbency there are a whole range of issues and factors ranged against them. Their star-campaigner, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, visited Karnataka almost 10 times before the elections were announced, engaging in a slew of inaugurations (of roads, bridges and what-not) and ribbon-cutting ceremonies. Ever since the State elections were announced, he has gone full throttle with rallies and road-shows; and this is expected to continue right up to the period of ‘election silence’ about 48 hours before polling day on May 10.
There are poll surveys and forecasts aplenty; most of them predict a victory for the Congress. These surveys however, are sometimes wrong; there is many a slip between the cup and the lip. For the BJP, the last few days before elections are normally very important: they have mastered the art of galvanising crowds (at the cost of the State exchequer) and even in door-to-door contact. They have money, muscle, and media with them. They stop at nothing. So, till the last vote is counted and the final results are declared, the average citizen will have to keep one’s fingers crossed.
There are several critical issues which are bound to influence the voters’ decision in the elections. Many of these issues are inter-related but no one can deny that fundamental to all of them are the issues of survival: roti, kapda aur makaan of the ordinary people; of their lives and livelihood. The cost of living has spiralled upwards as never before. Pathetic governance by the ruling party has made it impossible, if not extremely difficult, for the poor to make ends meet. They have particularly no purchasing power: they eke out a hand-to-mouth survival. Unemployment is at an all time high. It is also a fact that at the very last moment the BJP has the money to ‘buy up the poor’ – as they have done in several elections across the country in the recent years. No one is sure, though, if that money power will translate into votes at the end, this time too.
Yogendra Yadav is one of the country’s best known political scientists, psephologist, activist and much more. He has his ears to the ground. For the last weeks he has been in Karnataka with grassroots individuals and groups monitoring the run-up to the elections. He has been providing insightful analysis on the ground reality through his many articles and interactions. In his latest article in The Print (dated May 4) titled “Congress ‘hawa’ to class divide -- four observations in the run-up to Karnataka election”, Yadav is very clear about which party will be given the people’s mandate.
Mr. Yadav asserts, “The lower you go, the stronger is the hawa. No poor voter had a good word for the BJP. As I mentioned in my article last week, there is a clear rich-poor divide among the voters of Karnataka. The richer the voter, the lower the lead for the Congress, and vice-versa for the BJP. This was starkly evident on the ground. As soon as you speak to a poor person, they begin to rattle off everyday consumption items that are unaffordable now. Gas cylinder prices top the chart. “Earlier, we were making do with firewood. They gave us gas. Now we can’t go back to firewood. Nor can we afford the gas cylinder,” said one.” He goes on to add, “Almost everyone complained about the cut in free rice from 10 kg per person per month during the Congress’ time to 5 kg now. Petrol and diesel prices come next. Farmers complained about fertilizer prices. They mock the Kisan Samman Nidhi: ‘They give us 2,000 but take away more than that from our pocket.’ More ordinary people know about GST and blamed it for the higher prices than you might imagine.”
Corruption is another issue which is today systemic and has plagued the people of Karnataka. It is common knowledge that the BJP has been demanding a forty percent commission for every Government work awarded to anybody. In fact, some time ago a contractor from Belagavi, Santosh Patil, committed suicide. Before taking own life, he had accused BJP Minister Eshwarappa and his associates of not releasing payments for road work worth Rs 4 crore that he had done at Hindalga in Belagavi, and of demanding a commission of 40 per cent.
Several religious seers have also accused the BJP of polluting religious sanctity by demanding a 30 per cent commission from mutts and 40 per cent from temples. Several ministers have been accused of amassing mind-boggling amounts of wealth through corrupt practices. There is no doubt that corruption is mainstreamed in the country, and exists across the board in most political parties; but no one can compete with or reach the levels of corruption of the ruling regime. That the Prime Minister so blatantly uses his office to campaign for his political party is a clear case of corruption entailing huge expenditure to the Government coffers. His roadshows have put the ordinary citizen to great inconvenience and denied the daily wagers of their day’s earnings.
Communalism is certainly high on the agenda of the BJP. Karnataka was once a haven of communal harmony, but over the years through a meticulously divisive campaign, denigrating and demonizing minorities, the BJP has succeeded in polarising communities on religious lines and have kept the communal cauldron boiling. In September 2008, they attacked Christians and their institutions in Mangalore. The perpetrators were never brought to book. They continued spewing their hate and slow-fire violence across the State.
Then on 24 January 2009, a group of goons belonging to the extremist outfit, Sri Ram Sene, barged into a pub in Mangalore, beat up young women and men, screaming at them for having “loose morals”. The group claimed that the women were violating traditional Indian values. Two women were hospitalized for the injuries they sustained. However, after more than nine years, a lower court in Karnataka, on March 13, acquitted 26 of the attackers including the founder of the group, Pramod Muthalik, for ‘want of evidence’. This was indeed a travesty of justice. There is ample amount of video evidence to show how blatantly the goons had carried out the attack. Muthalik continues with his viciousness; this year, on February 19, he incited his audience saying “I am instructing our workforce, if we lose one Hindu girl, we must trap 10 Muslim women …”, adding “every Hindu must keep a weapon at home for the protection of cows, women and temples.”
As part of their communal agenda, the BJP has brought in through the back-door, a draconian anti-conversion law; stoked emotive issues like ‘love jihad’, ‘use of hijab’, and ‘Tipu Sultan’; consistently attacked Christian and Muslim places of worship and their adherents. Just before the Assembly elections, the Karnataka government decided to scrap the four per cent Muslim reservation quota. The Supreme Court said that the decision was ‘flawed’ and currently the execution of that decision is on hold. The BJP manifesto says it will bring in the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC) which is a clear sign of what they intend to do should they regain power in the State. Incidentally, thousands of names from the minority communities (specially Muslims and Christians) have apparently disappeared from the electoral rolls and they will be unable to exercise their franchise despite written protests to the Election Commission.
One has to realise that the Sangh Parivar, with all its affiliates, is a fascist organization. They are out to destroy the secular fabric of the country. Time and again the likes of Anant Kumar Hegde, a BJP leader, has been saying “we are here to change the Constitution”. A victory for the BJP in these elections would be a significant step closer towards the realization of this objective. The Sangh Parivar does not represent the vast majority of the Hindus of the country. Sometime ago, a BJP legislator from North Karnataka amplified the agenda of his party when he vociferously proclaimed, “This election is very important. It is not about roads, drinking water or gutters. This election is about Hindus and Muslims. Those who want to build the Babri Masjid, those who want to celebrate Tipu Jayanti, let them vote for the Congress. Those among you who want Shivaji Maharaj, those who want Sambhaji Maharaj, those who want to pray at a Lakshmi temple, you must vote for the BJP.”
Freedom of speech and ex
There are several other issues in Karnataka; these include rampant and wanton destruction of the environment; the division of society on the lines of caste and the criminalisation of politics. The campaigns of the major parties have not touched seriously and objectively most of the key critical issues. There has been on the other hand slew of promises of all kinds of ‘freebies’ if elected to power. Above all, mud-slinging and naked populism have been high on the anvil.
There is the danger of complacency, particularly on the part of some national political parties. For absolutely no reason, when the going is in their favour, some political parties have shot themselves in the foot, have scored self-goals by targeting individuals and using distasteful rhetoric and symbols. Hopefully, these will not have a decisive bearing in the final results. The last few days are important. It is imperative that all those who cherish democracy and the pluralistic fabric of the country must come out and vote decisively. Yes, there is hope. Karnataka has a vibrant civil society of deeply concerned citizens and even some highly committed ex-civil servants who have been leaving no stone unturned to make this election a mandate of the people. The ‘Bahutva Karnataka’ campaign is one such laudable campaign that has reached out to thousands all over and will hopefully help bring the change which the State so desperately needs.
Yogendra Yadav, concludes the article mentioned above with the words, “Yet, an invisible hand -- or perhaps four of them -- is fanning a hawa that feels like Bengaluru’s cool evening breeze after a day of scorching sun. All signs point to an electoral mandate that can counter the hegemonic power. As they say, dissent is like water. It finds its way”. The Karnataka Elections is about the Constitution of India…it is about the soul of India… it is about the future of India. And as one moves towards Election Day on 10 May 2023, the only narrative and slogan that must be uppermost in the hearts, minds and lips of every single concerned citizen of this country is: “Yes, Karnataka can do it.”
(Cedric Prakash SJ is a human rights, reconciliation and peace activist/writer. Contact: email@example.com)