The Southern Eclipse


THE CONGRESS is looking at Karnataka as its confidence shot. In December 2012, the party snatched Himachal Pradesh from the BJP, but got hammered in Gujarat. In November-December 2013, it faces a tough task in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh (where incumbent BJP governments are better placed than the one in Karnataka), is likely to lose Rajasthan and faces an uphill battle in Delhi, where it has won the previous three elections.

Bang in the middle of this punishing schedule comes Karnataka, a year before the Lok Sabha election of April-May 2014. Should the Congress win this and show it off as a sign of clawing back space lost to the BJP, as well a victory secured due to the BJP’s internal squabbles, poor governance and corruption, it will certainly talk up morale. Having said that, the C-Voter poll also indicates there is disquiet in regard to the UPA government’s performance in New Delhi.

Asked a question on the target of anger and told to name an entity or institution they were most likely to want to change, 20 percent opted for the UPA government, 12 percent for prime minister, 14 percent for the state government and 13 percent for the chief minister. Asked to compare anti-incumbency sentiments, 41 percent said it was higher for the state government and 35 percent said it was higher for the Central government. Only 3 percent put a change of their constituency MP on top of their wish list.

This suggests that while local anti-incumbency should trump national anti-incumbency in the state election, the Congress, even if romps home in Bengaluru, will find the going difficult a year down the line. The disappointment with the UPA government is patent and the BJP could well hope for a turnaround, especially if it resolves its leadership issues.

Asked if they thought a BJP led by Narendra Modi would help the party do well in Karnataka, an astounding 66 percent of respondents said “yes”. Obviously, this will make no difference in a state election, but a national election could see very different results. Karnataka has 28 Lok Sabha seats and the BJP won 19 in 2009. In the normal course, the Congress would be hoping to unseat BJP MPs and win a sizeable number of seats, especially just months after an Assembly election triumph. There is, as it would seem, nothing normal about Indian elections anymore.

There is enough evidence in recent years to support the contention that Indian voters choose differently in national and state elections. Local and regional parties often do better in the latter than the former. For instance, in Andhra Pradesh in 2009, the Congress won 33 of 42 Lok Sabha seats, but only just over half the 294 Vidhan Sabha seats. Karnataka offers a perplexing situation where the voter is so fed up of both the state and the Union governments, he may just vote differently in the two elections — but vote for two different national parties.

That may represent a curious nugget of trivia for the political buff, but for the ordinary citizen of Karnataka, it would be profoundly disturbing. At the beginning of the millennium, this was India’s showpiece state — the new economic power, the IT hot-house, the mining hub and iron exporter of choice. Today, its mining industry has been destroyed by cronyism, corruption and ecological devastation, with good and bad, legal and illegal mining tarred with the same brush and viewed with equal suspicion. The Indian story is holding its own, but no more galloping ahead. Finally, the sleaze and sheer greed of its politicians has made Karnataka a perfect example of all that’s wrong with contemporary Indian governance.

That’s why the state and its voters are angry — angry at the party that let them down in Bengaluru, angry too with the party that let them down in New Delhi. It is an anger that will singe both the BJP and the Congress. It is an anger that speaks for all India.

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Contributing Editor

Ashok Malik has been a journalist for 20 years and is contributing editor at Tehelka. He focuses on Indian domestic politics, foreign/trade policy, and their increasing interplay. In 2011, Ashok co-authored a paper: India’s New World: Civil Society in the Making of Foreign Policy, published by the Lowy Institute for International Policy, Sydney. It looked at the influence of Indian business, news media and overseas communities on the Ministry of External Affairs in New Delhi. In 2012, Ashok’s book, India: Spirit of Enterprise (Roli Books) was published. It encapsulates the story of the growth of India’s leading private sector industries since 1991, and their role in the Indian economy.