Within hours of HD Kumaraswamy taking over as CM of Karnataka, social media noticed quiet posting of a tweet by Union home minister Rajnath Singh. The post said, “Congratulations to Shri HD Kumaraswamy and Shri G Parameshwar on taking oath as the Chief Minister and Deputy Chief Minister of Karnataka. I hope Karnataka will move forward towards peace, progress and prosperity under the new Govt.”
This post came at the time when the world was going gaga over the presence of almost all the Opposition leaders in Bengaluru at the swearing in of the JD(S) leader as the new CM and the Congress leader as his deputy. The swearing-in ceremony in Bengaluru was happening after much animated political activity which had followed the fractured mandate. The post surprised Modi bhakts, BJP sympathisers and BJP opponents alike.
When over a month had been spent on political discourse which lacked in any respectful degree of civility, the tone and tenor of Rajnath Singh’s post, indeed, could be seen, if nothing else, as an attempt by his political party at course correction. A functionary in the ruling party mentioned that it was customary for the home minister to extend such courtesy to a new state government.However, those not sympathetic towards Narendra Modi’s leadership point out that such courtesies were expected of the PM, too. They point especially towards the speech the PM made at the BJP headquarters addressing the party workers on the day the Karnataka results came out.
The PM, in his hard-hitting speech, pointed out that the Congress had come to be limited to the 3-Ps Punjab, Puducherry and Parivar. To this was Rajnath Singh’s 3-Ps to the Kumaraswamy government, wishing the people of Karnataka peace, progress and prosperity. Do the two different sets of Ps, in some way, reflect an urge to shift towards a new style sheet? The Karnataka battle and the events that followed have increasingly shown that the burden of campaign for the BJP has come to completely rest with the PM and his hand-picked party president, Amit Shah. Although the other senior leaders of the party also participate in the campaign, they seldom seem to be eager to soak themselves in the same spirit as Modi and Shah do.
The post-result strategy of the BJP in Karnataka, in the absence of finance minister Arun Jaitley, who is recuperating from a kidney transplant surgical procedure, just could not find the requisite traction to save itself from a major embarrassment. The mess created around the hurried swearing-in of BS Yeddyurappa as CM, preceded by a midnight session of the Supreme Court, accompanied by the grisly stories of attempts made to woo MLAs and, finally, the headcount under apex court supervision, saw the BJP flounder at every step.
Since the situation was of his making, the onus of defending the party’s actions came to rest with Amit Shah, who, in turn, told mediapersons, “Had we got the 15-day period to prove our majority, their party MLAs would have gone to their constituencies and would’ve changed their mind.” It is certain that the life of the Karnataka alliance rests on the outcome of the 2019 General Elections. If Modi and Shah are back in the saddle post-2019 polls, nothing would stop the coming back of a BJP government in Karnataka. However, if that does not happen, the fate of governments in Meghalaya, Manipur, Arunachal, Goa and, maybe even Jammu and Kashmir, would also hang in the balance.
The BJP now finds itself on difficult turf on two counts. One, Karnataka and, before that, Gujarat and the bypolls in Gorakhpur and Phulpur in UP, have given the Opposition parties the hope of slowing down the Modi juggernaut. Two the perceivable allies from the regional parties, too, for now do not seem to be very keen to join ranks with the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA). More than a Chandrababu Naidu marking attendance at the swearing-in ceremony, or the bonhomie shown by Sonia Gandhi and Mayawati, it is the presence of Sharad Pawar which should send alarm bells ringing. Pawar had bailed out the BJP government in Maharashtra when its ally, the Shiv Sena, played truant. Pawar was rewarded with a Padma Vibhushan for public service thereafter. A veteran politician, Pawar certainly must be seeing a chance of Opposition alliance in 2019 if they cobble together a battle-ready outfit. At this stage, he would not want to be seen as a spoiler. Nor does Pawar have the compulsions similar to Naveen Patnaik or K Chandrashekhar Rao not to be seen supping with the Congress.
For sure, in 2019, the BJP would have to cede some space to its allies. As it is, there are not very many left within the NDA. The Shiv Sena, Akali Dal, JD(U) and AGP are to only formidable ones still with the BJP. In such circumstances, the party would need to change its style sheet, with persuasion and not aggression as the keyword.
(The writer is president, Centre for Reforms, Development & Justice, Delhi)