The Karnataka Polls 2018 – Lessons to be Learnt

Karnataka went in for polling on the 12th of May this year, and it has been one of the most rigorous elections that the country has seen. The pre-poll surveys were oscillating between the two main competitors – Indian National Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). With rallies having been conducted by the who’s who of all the parties, the wild chase for power had already become evident before D-day. What truly set aside this time’s election was perhaps that it was like a litmus test for the Congress and the BJP- to see if the Congress could count on Karnataka to remain unscathed by the ‘Modi wave’, and to see if the BJP could transcend into the Southern side of the subcontinent.

Then came the 72.36% voter turnout, highest since the 1978 turnout of 71.9%. The downside was that Bangalore (urban) finished with a turnout of 51% approximately, highlighting the dangerous rural-urban divide, as the rural part finished with a healthy turnout of 78.25%. While the poll statistics are one of the causes for concern, the post-poll circumstances are a much bigger cause for worry, and a rather sad state of affairs. The counting began with comments from political leaders, and the Twitterati eagerly pouncing on every bit of information. Eventually, the BJP’s lead created an air of anxiety for the Congress and JD(S) leaders, making the atmosphere all the more tense with Siddaramaiah losing Chamundeshwari by over 34,000 votes.

When BJP emerged as the single largest party, followed by the Congress and JD(S), there was a surge in adrenaline, shortly after which the Congress conveyed their intention to support the JD(S) to form the government as their total number of seats passed the simple majority, which BJP’s didn’t. This came around the same time when D K Shivakumar convinced the independents to extend their support to Congress-JD(S) Combine. After this, the inevitable race for horse trading began, and the Congress-JD(S) MLAs found themselves being rushed to the Eagleton Golf Resort, Bengaluru, reasons everyone had already guessed. Many allegations, high profile meetings and fly-ins later, a letter of claim was sent to the Governor, conveying Congress and JD(S)’s joint intention to form the government. However, soon after, the Governor invited the BJP to form the government and gave their Chief Ministerial candidate B.S. Yeddyurappa fifteen days to show majority in the Legislative Assembly.

The Supreme Court then convened at 1:45am on the morning of 17th May, to hear the Congress-JD(S) coalition’s plea for a stay order, only to deny it- stating that the next hearing would be on the 18th of May, and if oath was taken meanwhile, it would be subject to further orders of the court and the final outcome of the writ petition. On the 17th of May, B. S. Yeddyurappa took oath as the 23rd Chief Minister of Karnataka. During the hearing on 18th of May, the Supreme Court ordered B.S. Yeddyurappa to take the trust vote the next day, 19th of May.  As of this writing, B.S. Yeddyurappa resigned just before the trust vote when he was convinced that he can’t get the majority.

This is where the crux of the conflict begins. In Goa, BJP was invited to form the government while having the single largest vote share through a coalition, while ignoring the majority of a single party. Manipur also saw similar circumstances. Why then, was this precedent not followed in Karnataka? There is little real explanation being provided. There are several questions to be raised in the prevailing questions, pertaining to the quality of democracy that Karnataka has witnessed, and a reality check on the horse trading hassle. The governor had also provided the BJP with fifteen days to prove their majority on the floor, leaving many to question if it will only facilitate horse trading. Have we witnessed extreme use of discretion by the Governor in Karnataka in a way that hurts the democracy?

More worrisome questions, perhaps, are those of the national state of affairs, with the BJP having control of majority of the states, sparing Kerala and a few others. A brute majority across the nation has never been healthy for a democracy, and certainly did not present a pleasant state of affairs last time it occurred. In the attempt of securing Karnataka, the BJP had our Prime Minister conduct rallies as well. One such rally saw a rather dismal miscarriage of facts regarding field marshal K. M. Cariappa and General Thimmayya, two of the gems of the Indian military history, leaving many to question whether the campaign speech writer lacked research, or there was a deliberate alteration of facts- one of the many instances that BJP has taken to history to try and make a point.

Little remains to be said, except that strict reform is necessary. Over 3.2 lakh votes were cast for the NOTA (None Of The Above) category, making a point out of a dismal reality. The political vacuum caused by misleading facts, circulation of fake news, and WhatsApp forwards has to be addressed with quality political education. Another takeaway also stands, that the Congress leadership needs reform, and attention needs to be directed towards the fact that the Gandhi family is no longer enough, and better candidacy is what can give BJP a real counter in further polls.

But the most important lesson to be learned from the Karnataka elections is that – when two groups claim majority after the declaration of results, it just means there is no clear mandate.  Who forms the government depends on a clear post-poll alliance, or expectations of cross-voting.  The governor had a choice to make, and in retrospect he may be thinking he should have given more deliberation before inviting the BJP to form the government.

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