In Karnataka, losers join together to cock a snook at voters

In purely mathematical terms, the Karnataka Assembly election has thrown up no clear winner. But the losers are clear as daylight, regardless of who eventually forms the Government in the State. The first loser is the Congress party, which slumped from a high of 122 seats it got in 2013 to under 80 this time. While it more or less maintained its vote-share, it lagged behind the Bharatiya Janata Party in most regions. The party failed to not just retain its support base but also add to it. It lost votes to both the BJP and the Janata Dal (Secular).

Karnataka being the southern stronghold of the party, the Congress is now staring at a further breach of its influence in the region. The second loser is Congress president Rahul Gandhi. He campaigned vigorously, raised the most silly issues or raised a few relevant ones in silly ways. He came across as immature both in thought and action; he claimed at a meeting that he was willing to become the Prime Minister — a self-endorsement that drew sniggers all over.

The result once again confirmed the belief that people do not take Rahul Gandhi seriously, and that whenever the narrative becomes him versus Narendra Modi, he is certain to be at the receiving end. The third loser is Siddaramaiah. As the Chief Minister, he was supposed to retain the State for the Congress — Rahul fiasco notwithstanding. He was the bigger leader in Karnataka. But then he himself got embroiled in various controversies which dented his image.

Perceptions of corruption in governance, his flaunting of a most expensive watch, law and order issues etc took a toll on his image. He made things worse for himself by resorting to divide-and-rule techniques. And this brings us to the fourth loser: Divisive politics. The Congress did everything it could to polarise people along caste and community lines and attract their votes. It sought to draw a line within the Hindu community by creating a Lingayat versus non-Lingayat divide; it celebrated controversial ruler Tipu Sultan’s birth anniversary despite stiff opposition from large sections of the population, with a view to appeasing the Muslim community. Also, in the same direction, it implicitly took the support of the hate-mongering Popular Front of India which finds mention in the records of various probe agencies for anti-social and anti-national conduct; it rallied together a clutch of Muslim organisations which issued an appeal in favour of the Congress. The Lingayats were not impressed, while Muslim appeasement resulted in counter-polarisation in favour of the BJP. There are lessons for the Congress and its leaders in the loss. Will they learn?

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