Yesterday morning the Election Commission of India (ECI) announced the calendar of events for Karnataka Assembly election-2023. The Code of Conduct for the election, which prescribes ethical, moral and legal principles to be observed by the political parties, the contesting candidates and those who canvass for their party candidates, comes into force immediately. Like Rahul Gandhi losing his Lok Sabha membership immediately after his conviction in that criminal defamation case!
However, we know the preparation for this D-day that will decide the Ruler of Karnataka for the next five years has been underway since about one year in different forms by all the three major political parties, namely the Congress, the BJP and the JD(S).
A flash-back of political developments in Karnataka after the fractured mandate of 2018 Assembly election, I think, is in order to imagine a possible scenario in the forthcoming election. In the last 5 years (2018-2023) we have seen two governments and three Chief Ministers. First was a coalition government of JD(S) and Congress. H.D. Kumaraswamy of JD(S) became the Chief Minister with Sonia Gandhi urging the JD(S) Supremo H.D. Deve Gowda (former Prime Minister and father of Kumaraswamy) to head the coalition government though Congress had 80 MLAs against 37 of JD(S). The BJP had 104.
It was perceived at that time the Karnataka Congress and its local leaders were unhappy with the decision of the Congress High Command in handing over the CM’s Office to JD(S). But who will dare question Sonia Gandhi’s decision taken after talking to JD(S) Supremo directly? And soon, with a little encouragement from the local Congress honchos, the BJP managed to secure the support of several rebel MLAs from the Congress and JD(S), who joined BJP and won the by-election that followed. The Sonia-Deve Gowda coalition collapsed like ninepins and BJP came to power in July 2019 with B.S. Yediyurappa as the CM and Siddharamaiah as the Leader of the Opposition. During the coalition government, Siddharamaiah was at large like any other Congress MLA sans any Office. Therefore, it was a position he was too happy to get.
However, the much-vaunted new double-engine BJP government, as Prime Minister Modi never got bored of proclaiming, became embroiled in internal squabbles leading to inertia and open corruption at all levels, except in Judiciary. It became common knowledge and Congress took full advantage of it for anti-BJP propaganda. Not that Congress is a virgin and paragon of honesty. Its President D.K. Shivakumar is still facing a Court case and on bail.
What is disturbing the common man, the voter, is the demonic proportion of corruption and its ramification at all levels of administration. Modi’s double-engine government did not seem to work at all. The engine at Delhi might have worked, but the one here in Bengaluru was simply a dummy engine.
The BJP High Command thought it could remedy this canker of corruption and a moribund administration by changing the Chief Minister — like changing the horse in midstream!
Yediyurappa was made to resign voluntarily by a clever political manoeuvre that BJP is an expert at and the suave, soft-spoken engineer, who was holding the Office of Home Minister and a Lingayat, Basavaraj Bommai was ensconced as the CM in July 2021. Did matters improve for BJP with this change? Definitely NOT. More corruption cases tumbled out of the cupboard. And understandably, Congress made a frontal attack on BJP.
The BJP currently has 121 MLAs in the Assembly, while Congress 70 and JD(S) 30. Karnataka politics had not been stable after Rajiv Gandhi unceremoniously junked the popular and capable Lingayat Chief Minister, Veerendra Patil, 33 years ago. There appeared a binary of two major communities, Lingayats and Vokkaligas that continues even to this day. And the result? Well, JD(S) became the king-maker with much less number of MLAs compared to the Congress and BJP. And fortuitously JD(S) becoming the King — that was how H.D. Kumaraswamy could become the Chief Minister twice !
Therefore, all things considered we need not be surprised if we get a fractured mandate this time too. And all the political parties have experience in managing such an exigency when it happens. We must remember that across India people have separate parameters for giving their vote in Assembly polls and Parliament elections.
Whatever it be, for patriots a fractured mandate and a coalition government, either in the State or in the Centre, is not a propitious choice. We have seen this many times and its malefic effect on our country’s development, defence and internal security. Ten years of UPA under two PMs — one shadow and the other real — one de jure, another de facto, had done enough damage to our country’s image, economic growth, defence and our pride as Indians here at home and abroad. It was a period of darkness. It was a period of despair. Perish the thought.
Now what is at stake for Karnataka is good administration and Law and Order. It needs political stability and capable leadership — Chief Ministers like Kengal Hanumanthaiah, S. Nijalingappa, D. Devaraj Urs (ignoring corruption as aberration), Veerendra Patil, Ramakrishna Hegde and S.M. Krishna. These Chief Ministers had vision and enlightened self-interest to do good for Karnataka rather than for themselves.
After all, economically Karnataka is a very important and powerful State among all the States of the country. Its contribution to country’s GDP is above 8 percent, next only to Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh. Karnataka has a host of several key sectors of industries such as IT, BT, aerospace and defence, including Rare Materials Plant (RMP). Its automobile industry too is raring to grow, competing with Tamil Nadu. Therefore, it is important we have a stable government, no matter single engine or double engine (but not of the “pull-and-push” kind).
And finally, in this election there are two leaders in each political party who matter. They are Siddharamaiah and D.K. Shivakumar of Congress, B.S. Yediyurappa and Basavaraj Bommai of BJP and H.D. Deve Gowda and H.D. Kumaraswamy of JD(S). We expect them to lead this electoral battle strictly as per rules and ethical values. Their conduct should be an example and model to their followers, supporters and voters. I remember the words of President Gerald Ford of America (1974) in answer to a journalist’s question: What is the standard of service you expect from your staff?
Without batting an eyelid, the US President said: I set the standard.
Let us hope and pray these six leaders too, like President Ford, set standards of service for others to follow.
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