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Random Reflections On The Karnataka Election 2013

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If one were to name a singular failure of the intelligentsia, the politicians, the sociologists and finally the sanctimonious, ‘know-all’ media that comprise the opinion-shaping organs of the world’s largest democracy, it is its failure to build a cohesive national spirit. For, sixty five years after becoming a democratic polity, we still vote as castes and communities; ethnic and religious groups.

Unlike the Americans, Brits, Chinese, French or Russians we do not think, act or behave as a nation, like Indians. We think as vokkaligas, and lingayats; forward castes and backward castes; Hindus and Muslims; Bengalese and Biharis; Kanndigas and Marathis but certainly not as Indians.

Compared to these considerations, probity in public life or its converse, corruption appears to be a non-issue in Indian elections. This was earlier observed in AP in 2009 when the then YSR government accused of corruption on a gigantic scale not only comfortably returned to power but contributed 33 MPs to his party to form a government at the centre.

The reason could probably be that corruption only affects the middle classes. The poor do not mind whether the government is corrupt or not as in any case their lot remains poor. If someone provides them their daily necessities and a few other freebies, that would be all they want. Throw the poor some crumbs. The late YSR understood this principle and deployed it with great success. His philosophy was ‘I and my cronies would loot the state and none can question me as long as the people vote me back to power.’ He warded off all accusations of corruption with the hide of a hippopotamus. If in the process the government bankrupts, so be it!

His bête noire CBN, left out of power for two terms learnt his predecessor’s lessons well! It is early days yet to predict if he would or could come back to power in 2014 but to service all the freebies he has been promising during his recent 3000-km padayatra the state budget may be woefully inadequate. The freebies he promised would consume the revenues of the entire nation. To be fair to CBN he did not face any corruption charges when in power.

For the rich it is a closed circuit. ‘I can, and pay for services; I recover my costs and some by swindling the public.’ They need corruption and it needs them. It is a self-reinforcing loop.

The BJP, which laid great store by probity in public life, floundered when its tallest leader in the state, B.S. Yeddyurappa blundered. In the 1990s, its leader L. K. Advani, an accused in the Jain Hawala case resigned his parliament membership and stayed out of public life till his name was cleared. Its Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee sacrificed his 13-day government in 1996, by losing a vote of confidence on the floor of the Lok Sabha by a solitary vote. If his floor managers did what the Manmohan Singh government did at the fag end of its first term in 2004, he would not have had to go to the people again. Atal Behari Vajpayee had sacked Buta Singh, a minister from a politically sensitive community when the Supreme Court indicted him in the JMM bribery case.

B.S. Yeddyurappa nullified about forty years’ of hard work and clean public life with greed for some small peanuts. When there was a demand for probing mining licences, in a fit of foolish or inverted bravado, he included his own tenure in the terms of reference he ordered. That was his undoing. He was one of the few Chief Ministers who had to resign on grounds of corruption and sent to jail based on a report filed by the state Lokayukta. The High Court later rubbished the report. For the record, the report of the former Karnataka Lokayukta, Justice Santosh Hegde, also indicted two of Yeddyurappa’s predecessors, S. M. Krishna and Dharam Singh both of theCongress. What was Yeddyurappa charged of in the Lokayukta report? He was charged of allocating a paltry 10 acres of land to his family members. He did it, as many of his predecessors did, under the Chief Minister’s discretionary quota. An indiscretion perhaps, for a leader of a ‘party with a difference’ but it can hardly be termed corruption. His son was accused of accepting a paltry Rs 10 Cr as a donation to a trust he was running as quid pro quo for getting him some mining leases.

The BJP did act by replacing Yeddyurappa as Chief Minister but by the time the damage was done. The anti-BJP media selectively went to town with Yeddyurappa’s alleged corruption and the stigma stuck. The reason for qualifying the media as anti-BJP is because it spared the two former Congress CMs indicted by the same Lokayukta report. The BJP could not effectively counter the campaign. Here is a lesson for the BJP to ruminate on its media management or look for a media organisation of its own. 

The lesson: don’t under-estimate the power of media. There is a corollary to the lesson: don’t over-estimate the power of the social media. The social media may be able to discipline the mainstream media to a certain extent but it can’t be a substitute for hard work on the ground.

The manner of his exit rather than the exit per se must have angered Yeddyurappa. A faction within the party which wanted the party to brazen out corruption charges (as the Congress does often) raised false hopes in him. But a more martinet faction within the party wanted him out at least till his name was cleared by due legal processes. A miffed Yeddyurappa walked out of the party, formed his own outfit and proved to be the BJP’s nemesis at the hustings. His exit split the party’s votes and reduced its tally in the Vidhan Sabha to a third of its former strength. In the process, he rendered himself irrelevant in the political scheme of things in the state. He might yet learn his lesson and yearn for a homecoming as many others before him have done both in the BJP and its arch-rival, the Congress. For the nonce, he has had his revenge for a real or imaginary slight he suffered in the party.

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