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Saturday, May 27, 2023

Voters Plump for Peace over Polarization in Karnataka Assembly Election

The result of the Karnataka Assembly elections is a confident exhibition of the land and people of India in the old principles of our freedom fighters which they support against the British rulers viz. Pluralism, fraternity cooperation and religious and spiritual literacy.

To decode the Karnataka result it’s important to understand the historical clash of two major parties and their subsequent ideologies.

One of India’s post-independence distinguishing features, both at home and internationally, is its ability to uphold democratic government in the face of stunning racial, linguistic, and religious diversity. Jawaharlal Nehru, the nation’s first prime minister, and the then-ruling Indian National Congress (or Congress Party) pushed for Indian-style secularism in the years immediately following independence in an effort to bring the nation’s diverse cultures together under one government.

Hindu nationalists, who later made up the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its various ideological offshoots, have historically held a radically different perspective; they see India as a majoritarian, not a multicultural, nation-state. Since the BJP’s historic electoral triumph in 2014 where they have used the slogan Sabka sath, sabka vikas antagonistically opposite to their basic idea of majoritarianism.

The conflicts inherent in these opposing conceptions of Indian nationhood have risen to the fore. It is easy to perceive the BJP as just another populist right-wing party that purposefully exploits religious polarisation, with its rise to power fitting into a recent global trend of populism based on anti-minority and anti-immigration rhetoric.

The BJP had seemingly succeeded in changing the electorate of what was once referred to as a “patronage democracy” into supporters of “programmatic” politics and by reaching out to people through a cogent political agenda aimed at uniting India, Bharat Jodo Yatra gives citizens a genuine option over policies, changing the degree of voter consciousness. Before the Karnataka assembly elections in 2023, Rahul Gandhi’s “Bharat Jodo Yatra” brought in significant gains for his party and created a powerful opposition before the 2024 big clash.

In a significant turn of events, the BJP suffered a stunning defeat in the recent Karnataka Assembly elections showing that the idea of peace leads to prosperity powering the idea of a parachute form of development where development comes without any base of peace, security and mutual co-existence.

The results not only altered the political landscape but also sent a clear message that the common people of Karnataka prioritize harmony and unity over the divisive policies that have become synonymous with the ruling party.

The campaign leading up to the elections witnessed a sharp focus on the ideological differences between political parties, with the BJP emphasizing mostly Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the “double-engine” administration, national issues, and plans or accomplishments of the union government, along with a small number from the states, the BJP’s campaign appeared to be heavily “centralised.”

In this election central leadership of the Congress party keenly observed the local issues and fully relied on the judgement of local leaders after consultation. Rahul Gandhi, Mallikarjun Kharge, Priyanka Gandhiji, and other leaders worked with local leaders as team members. This behaviour of the leaders left and good impact and keep them enthusiastic. Rahul Gandhi criticised PM Modi for not respecting local leaders.

PM Modi also failed to estimate the power of the Yediyurappa factor. BJP lost nearly 10 seats because of this factor.

The Congress initially had its campaign conducted by its state leaders, and it mostly concentrated on local matters. However, after a while, its top figures joined in, including Rahul Gandhi, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, and AICC president Mallikarjun Kharge. However, BJP’s strategy failed to resonate with the electorate, who expressed a desire to solve local issues, inclusive governance and peaceful coexistence.

Long before the election bugle was even sounded, the Congress made corruption a prominent focus of its campaign, referring to several “scams” and a 40% commission charge by a contractors’ association. By emphasising alleged corruption under previous Congress administrations at the State and the Centre, particularly the purported denotification scandal by the Siddaramaiah administration, the BJP has attempted to refute the narrative.

Since 2014, the BJP has run in practically all elections in Modi’s name. By emphasising the “insults” that Congress and other parties have levelled at Prime Minister Modi, the saffron party is also attempting to generate sympathy for itself. One of the main goals of political parties in Karnataka is to unite the voting bases of the various castes. The Congress intends to increase its vote total in areas with a high Lingayat population, whereas the BJP is concentrating on winning over the Vokkaliga voters in the ancient Mysuru region.

The Bommai government’s decision to eliminate the 4% Muslim reservation under the Other Backward Classes (OBC) quota and distribute it equally among the dominant Vokkaliga and Lingayat communities, while classifying Muslims as part of the Economically Weaker Section (EWS), as well as the implementation of internal reservations for various Dalit communities under the Scheduled Caste (SC) category, is certain to inflame the political climate. Similar to other states, the BJP has urged voters to elect its government in order to hasten the development of the state. The BJP now uses “Double Engine Govt” as its catchphrase in practically all elections.

The BJP has been accused by the Congress of engaging in minority appeasement tactics, while the Congress has accused the BJP of bringing up divisive issues with an eye on the elections, such as the hijab, halal, azan, and Tipu Sultan.

In the meantime, the National Register of Citizens (NRC) issue has returned to the BJP election manifesto for the first time since the Assam assembly elections in 2021, as the party pledged to implement it in Karnataka to guarantee the deportation of “all illegal immigrants” if elected to power.

The BJP, known for its assertive and polarizing rhetoric, seemed to overlook the concerns and aspirations of the common people. The party’s stance on controversial issues such as the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC) sparked fears of exclusion and discrimination among many citizens.

Political observers think that the BJP has intensified its Hindutva agenda in Karnataka by bringing up the NRC, a topic that is very important to its core supporters, as it makes every effort to defeat the opposition Congress in a state that frequently elects the outgoing government.

Congress has stoked the flames even higher by supporting a ban on groups like the Bajrang Dal. In this matter, the BJP has escalated its criticism of the opposition party, branding it an insult to Lord Hanuman.

The Congress party won a total of 135 seats including 21 of the 36 SC reserved seats and also 14  ST seats out of 15 seats. This result shows that the Congress party secured the support of all sects of people. This is really a realizing factor that Congress is uniting the people by its socio-political policies and action and moving towards the composite India and Indian culture

During the election campaign, the Indian National Congress effectively highlighted these concerns, emphasizing the need for a government that unites rather than divides. This is a similar idea which was in the Pt.Jawahar lal Nehru’s mind when India was in the making and very recently Rahul Gandhi chose this idea to make his nonviolent weapon against hate politics. The electorate’s response clearly indicated a growing realization that the BJP’s brand of politics is not conducive to fostering a peaceful and inclusive society.

The BJP’s defeat in Karnataka Assembly Election also stems from the disappointment felt by certain sections of society regarding the party’s governance. Rising unemployment, high inflation rates, an ailing agricultural sector, and a lack of focus on essential public services became crucial factors contributing to the erosion of faith in the ruling party.

Furthermore, the electorate recognized the importance of secularism and religious harmony, which they felt had been compromised during the BJP’s tenure. Instances of communal violence and the party’s perceived favouritism towards a particular community created a sense of unease among the citizens, leading them to opt for change.

The loss of the BJP in Karnataka serves as a reminder to political parties that divisive politics is not a sustainable approach. The common people have demonstrated their firm belief in unity, peace, and progress, rejecting the politics of division and polarization.

As Karnataka heads towards a new political era, it is essential for the elected representatives to prioritize the welfare and aspirations of the people. The responsibility now falls on the opposition to rise to the occasion, leveraging this opportunity to deliver on their promises of inclusive governance and economic development.

The BJP’s defeat in Karnataka should be seen as a wake-up call for the party to reevaluate its strategies and recalibrate its messaging. The road ahead demands a more inclusive and consensus-driven approach, where the interests of all citizens are taken into account, regardless of their caste, creed, or community.

Karnataka Assembly elections have conveyed a powerful message: the people have recognized that the BJP’s divisive politics do not align with their vision of a harmonious society. By rejecting the party, the electorate has underlined the importance of peace, unity, and progress as the foundation of a robust democracy. It is now up to the newly elected representatives to translate this mandate into policies that foster an inclusive and prosperous Karnataka for all its citizens.

(Dr. Mayank Tomar is an Assistant Professor at the Amity University, Noida. Views expressed are personal.)

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