Congress has made a huge mistake. They are going to pay dearly for this. They might actually never recover from this.
The scenario is very simple to understand. Nobody seriously believes that Congress (78 seats) is going to support JDS (37 seats) for a full five-year term. At some point or the other, the Congress’ greed will get the better of its judgement and it will pull down the government.
Guess what happens then? The Congress will face a backlash from the Vokkaligas for pulling down Kumaraswamy’s government. The Lingayats are already furious with the Congress. Between the Lingayat belt in the north of Karnataka and the Vokkaliga belt in the south, the Congress will be crushed.
In effect, Congress is riding a tiger that it cannot get off. But it will have to jump at some point and then the tiger is going to eat them.
The Congress actually started the Karnataka election well, with a decent plan of action. The JDS had been out of power for 10 years and being a small regional party with very limited resources, it seemed like their days were numbered. The Congress plan was to destroy the JDS completely in its home base and take control of the Old Mysore region. An expeditionary measure was also undertaken in Northern Karnataka to try and divide the Lingayat vote.
Both plans flopped and miserably so. The Lingayats polarized against the attempt to divide Hindus. And in the Old Mysore region, the Congress has now revived the JDS. The image of Kumaraswamy has now been bolstered to become the face of the state. The Congress is divided between Siddaramaiah, Parameswara and Kharge. Even if they wanted to project a Congress face to keep Kumaraswamy from monopolizing the stage, they won’t be able to agree on one.
Here is a basic rule of politics. Never give up your pole position. You may never get it back.
Long years ago, the BJP made this mistake in Uttar Pradesh, after the elections of 2002. That year, the Samajwadis emerged as the largest party, winning 143 seats. The BSP won 98 seats and the BJP 88 seats.
Desperate to hold on to (the appearance of) power in Uttar Pradesh at any cost, the BJP offered the CM post to Mayawati.
By the 2004 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP had melted down in Uttar Pradesh. By 2007 Assembly elections, the BJP had practically ceased to matter in Uttar Pradesh elections, which became a BSP vs SP affair. First Mayawati won a majority in 2007 and then Mulayam won a majority in 2012. The BJP was reduced to a mere onlooker.
Today the BJP is back in Uttar Pradesh, thanks to the turnaround scripted by Modi-Shah. But for 12 years, the BJP was nowhere in the state. The pole position that it surrendered in 2002 would never have come back, except for Modi-Shah.
Does the Congress dynasty really have it in its genes to perform that kind of an electoral miracle in Karnataka?
In another large southern state, the Congress has now agreed to play second fiddle to a regional party. It is only a matter of time before the Congress becomes a small supporting party in Karnataka to Kumaraswamy’s JDS. The Congress has been down this path before, becoming a support party for Samajwadis in Uttar Pradesh, Lalu Yadav in Bihar and Hemant Soren in Jharkhand.
I would call on BJP supporters to understand the real meaning of “Congress Mukt Bharat.” There is a difference between defeating the Congress in a state and making a state “Congress mukt.”
“Congress mukt” does not mean Congress living on as the main opposition. For instance, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Chhattisgarh have seen the Congress lose repeatedly to the BJP. But these states can hardly be considered “Congress mukt.”
Indeed, “Congress mukt” means that the Congress is neither in a position to form the government nor become the opposition. And from this point of view, what happened yesterday is actually a step forward towards Congress mukt Bharat. A JDS government with BJP as the main opposition is more “Congress mukt” than a BJP government with Congress as the main opposition.
And Mamata Banerjee was the first to recognize this reality. Her tweet on this has been absolutely vicious:
Congress was third in line (technically even 4th) to be congratulated. She made it a point not to mention Deve Gowda and Kumaraswamy by name AND not to mention Rahul by name. And just in case somebody still didn’t catch the drift, she spelt out that it’s a victory for the “regional front.”
In the days to come, such humiliation for the Congress will mount. The Congress for its part seems to be willing to swallow it. And when somebody is willing to offer concessions, in the relentlessly competitive sphere of Indian politics, they can expect to be taken to the cleaners.
Abhishek Banerjee is a math lover who may or not be an Assistant Professor at IISc Bangalore.