The people of Karnataka have said it: With a verdict loud and clear! With a decisive and massive mandate of 136 seats out of 124 to the Indian National Congress, Karnataka has told the people of India that change is possible, there are alternatives and better ones for the future of India and for a more vibrant and stable democracy!
There are several factors that have certainly contributed to this victory: The pro-poor promises and policies of the Congress. For the ordinary voter what matters most is roti, kapda aur makaan and other issues of life and livelihood; issues of survival; of employment, of a cleaner and better environment; of a pluralistic and safer society. The Congress seemed to have put together all these in a very pragmatic way.
The poor have been finding it difficult to make both ends meet. They have particularly no purchasing power: they eke out a hand-to-mouth survival. Yogendra Yadav, one of the best known political scientists, psephologist, and activist says, “No poor voter had a good word for the BJP...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.”
Rahul Gandhi was certainly in touch with the people! Apparently his ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’ some months ago had tremendous popular support. People came out spontaneously to walk with them. No one was paid or manipulated into coming. On the campaign trail he reached out to everyone: sat with ordinary people and ate with them, reached out to the poor farmer, took a pillion ride on a two-wheeler with a delivery boy. He spoke about “love” and of coming together as one people. He effectively changed the public discourse to focus on the grim realities of the people.
Priyanka Vadra Gandhi too did the same. The campaigns of most of the Congress candidates were positive with efforts to reach out to the people. For the first time in recent years the Congress distanced itself from ‘soft Hindutva’ by naming the ‘Bajrang Dal’ in its manifesto and assuring the people that they would address every form of terrorism.
There were several civil society initiatives. People from all walks of life were convinced that the Karnataka elections were a defining moment in the history of the country. Massive all-round efforts were made to get people registered on the electoral rolls and to exercise their franchise. The ‘Bahutva Karnataka’ and the ‘Wake Up Karnataka’ campaigns were among those that left no stone unturned to raise voter consciousness and highlight the need and importance of preserving democracy in India.
The Catholic Church in Karnataka under the leadership of Archbishop Peter Machado of Bangalore also played a significant role particularly through the Karnataka Catholic Think Tank; their members were on the field for several weeks before that. The Jesuits of the Karnataka province were also on the forefront: mobilising youth, encouraging first time voters, organising public meetings/talks and active on social media both in rural and urban Karnataka.
On the other hand, the BJP continued with its ‘core competency’ indulging in everything from their bag of dirty tricks. They splurged money and largesse all over; The many visits and roadshows of Prime Minister Narendra Modi were all at the cost of the tax-payer! Mind-boggling amounts of money were incurred in transporting people to the PM’s events; grounds were destroyed and trees were cut overnight for helipads for the PM. His roadshows put the ordinary citizen to great inconvenience and even denied the daily wagers of their day’s earnings. That the PM had to give up his primary responsibility of governance and spend days and weeks on the campaign trail for his party is a blatant abuse of office.
The BJP played the communal card to the hilt -- denigrating, demonizing and discriminating against minorities particularly Muslims and Christians. They spewed venom through their hate speeches. As part of their communal agenda the BJP brought through the back-door, a draconian anti-conversion law; stoked emotive issues like ‘love jihad’, ‘use of hijab’, ‘Tipu Sultan’; consistently attacked Christian and Muslim places of worship and their adherents. Just before the Assembly elections, the Government decided to scrap the four per cent Muslim reservation. Their manifesto said it would bring in a Uniform Civil Code (UCC) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC); all of which are proof of their divisiveness and obsession to make India a ‘Hindutva’ nation.
They reportedly succeeded in deleting thousands of names from the minority communities (especially Muslims and Christians) from the electoral rolls. They stopped at nothing. The Home Minister Amit Shah promised that there would be “riots in Karnataka” if the BJP did not come back to power; now that they have lost, one will have to see if and when he and his party make good this promise. They are capable of indulging in anything – as the people of India have witnessed in the past.
Unlike the Congress, the BJP campaign was a negative one. The report-card of their performance in governance was zilch and the people have suffered greatly during their reign on every possible front! They criminalised politics in the state as never before.
There is a danger of complacency now. This victory is just a tiny step, like putting one’s foot into the door of democracy so that it still remains open. There are other state elections to come and then just a year from now in 2024, India will go into General Elections. Those elections are the ones that will make or break the nation.
The verdict from Karnataka is like a ray of light and hope for the future. When the results came in, a young lady doctor from Bangalore exclaimed, “I feel I can breathe now! And it’s a breath of fresh air.” Yes, the people in most parts of the state were feeling stifled and throttled – many wondering when they would come out from the cloud of darkness. They have done so today with a resounding and decisive defeat for the fascist, fundamentalist and fanatic forces, who have been trying to destroy democracy and pluralism of the nation with their corrupt and communal agenda.
The people of Karnataka have spoken loud and clear…now for the long-haul journey ahead!
(Fr Cedric Prakash SJ is a human rights, reconciliation and peace activist/writer. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org )