Aijaz Zaka Syed

Modi and the southern challenge

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Nothing succeeds like sweet success. And it is doubly sweet when it is snatched from the jaws of defeat as it has been in Karnataka. Working with the Janata Dal (S) and other secular parties, an alert Congress for once has upstaged and outsmarted a power-crazy BJP at its own game, setting the agenda for 2019 battle royale.

The barefaced political manoeuvres, brute use of money plus muscle power and utter contempt for institutions that the BJP once again demonstrated to capture power in Karnataka at any cost, despite falling well short of a majority, is truly breathtaking.

As has been its pattern in Goa and several northeastern states, the saffron party once again pulled out all stops to install as its chief minister someone who has the dubious distinction of being the first sitting chief minister to go to prison on corruption charges. In its bid to buy power – literally – the party once again turned to the infamous Reddy brothers, the mining barons of Bellary who went to jail for looting natural resources and cheating the exchequer out of billions of rupees. Not only are the Reddy brothers somehow out of jail, they even campaigned for and bankrolled the BJP during the recent assembly polls.

Many BJP leaders, including BS Yeddyurappa – the two-day chief minister – were caught on tape offering hundreds of crores of rupees to the Congress-JD(S) MLAs for switching loyalties. So much for the BJP’s claim to be the ‘party with a difference’.

And how can we forget the critical ‘inside help’ offered by Governor Vajubhai Vala, an RSS veteran who had once vacated his assembly seat in Gujarat to enable Narendra Modi to contest his maiden election.

In the face of all these adversities, if the Congress-JD(S) prevailed in the end, it was because of a clear-eyed assessment of the situation by the Congress, magnanimously asking the JD(S) to lead the government and, of course, thanks to the strategic intervention by the Supreme Court for once again saving democracy.

But more than anything, if Hindutva’s expansionist agenda south of Vindhyas has been derailed even if temporarily, it was thanks to the unity firmly maintained in opposition ranks in the face of a saffron peril. Apparently, it was Dalit stalwart Mayawati who brought the Congress and JD(S) together. She called up Sonia Gandhi even before the results came out to impress upon her the need for opposition unity to prevent the BJP from capturing the south.

Clearly, the former Uttar Pradesh chief minister, who formed coalition governments twice with the BJP, has learnt her lessons after being nearly wiped out in the UP Assembly polls last year. She has struck an extraordinary alliance with the arch-rival Samajwadi Party led by Akhilesh Yadav in UP.

The unusual SP-BSP alliance has already set the cat among the pigeons by wresting two strategic Lok Sabha seats from the BJP – Gorakhpur and Phulpur, represented by UP Chief Minister Adityanath and his deputy, respectively – in March. The alliance could mount a serious challenge to the BJP in India’s largest state if they avoid the fracture of secular votes.

Apart from Mayawati, Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu, until recently a BJP ally, also called on former prime minister and Janata Dal (S) leader HD Deve Gowda, persuading him to tie up with the Congress to keep out the BJP.

In the end, common sense prevailed, given the shared threat that the two parties faced from the BJP with a partisan governor inviting the BJP and not the Congress-JD(S) coalition despite their clear majority to form the government.

But Vajubhai Vala is hardly the first governor to do so. Most governors appointed by the BJP are former RSS men and they have naturally gone out of their way to oblige their comrades in khaki knickers.

However, as Gopalkrishna Gandhi, former Tamil Nadu governor and Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson argues, the Karnataka governor may well be thanked by opposition parties for impressing on them the need for pre-poll unity and forming coalitions to take on the leviathan called the BJP.

Indeed, there are vital lessons to be drawn from the Karnataka drama. Imagine the electoral windfall that opposition parties could have reaped in terms of seats – the vote share of the Congress and JD(S) in Karnataka is 38 percent and 18 percent, respectively, against the BJP’s 36 percent – if they had joined forces before the election, and not later, avoiding a split of secular votes. As has been the case elsewhere, the Congress and JD (S) inflicted heavy electoral losses on each other, directly benefiting the BJP.

More importantly, this BJP versus the rest should be the template for the all-important 2019 elections and assembly polls thereafter. How many more humiliating defeats are needed for secular parties to realise that they cannot fight the BJP by fighting each other? Unless they make a common cause out of defeating the saffron party, certain defeat and a total rout of their parties stares them in the face.

Although the Modi juggernaut appears to have slowed down, the mean election-fighting machine that the BJP has become under Modi and Amit Shah is far from down and out.

The middle-class honeymoon with Modi’s BJP appears to be nearly over thanks to the continuing disasters on the economic front, rising inflation and the backbreaking oil prices that are hurting the average Indian. The unprecedented agriculture distress is killing thousands of farmers. Religious minorities, women and underprivileged communities like Dalits have never been more insecure and persecuted.

Yet, it would be foolish to think Modi can now be easily defeated. Finding itself on the back foot, the BJP and the Parivar could only step up their favourite game of spreading hate and communal strife. The Congress, the only pan-India party that could have checked it, has become institutionally weak and lacks the financial wherewithal and cadres to take on the cash-rich BJP, with an army of millions of fanatic cadres and dozens of front organisations.

The grand old party cannot fight this battle on its own and it is about time that it faced this truth. It must join forces with secular parties and regional players like the Samajwadi Party, Mayawati’s BSP, Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress, Chandrababu Naidu’s Telugu Desam, Tamil Nadu’s DMK, the Telangana Rashtriya Samiti and the CPI (M).

Indeed, wherever regional parties are strong, the Congress ought to let them take the lead in assembly elections in return for their support in parliamentary polls. Of course, this is easier said than done as in many states the Congress and regional players battle for the same turf and same constituencies.

But some compromises and sacrifices will have to be made if India is to rid itself of the forces that have shamed the country in the whole world, with their politics of hate and intolerance. They are hell-bent on systematically destroying all democratic institutions and the very idea of an inclusive, pluralistic India.

Something has got to give and the grand old party must play the big brother, bringing all secular and democratic forces together. The Congress once led the struggle for India’s freedom. It must launch yet another movement to reclaim the idea of a secular and democratic India. It is time for another freedom struggle.

Courtesy The News

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