Karnataka had been the pride of India a decade ago when its capital Bengaluru earned a niche as the software capital of the country and the ‘garden city’ where professionals from all over the country and top-billing foreign investors made a beeline in quest of an el dorado.
Today, the software revolution has moved no further and yesterday’s ‘garden city’ has become a ‘garbage city,’ thanks to poor political direction and corruption that has seeped into all spheres, including in provision of civic amenities and in maintaining the ecological balance of the bustling city. Infrastructure has suffered years of neglect and bureaucratic delays and is posing a big deterrent for new investors.
Fed up with the misdemeanours of successive Congress governments, the electorate in Karnataka opted for an untested BJP in 2008, but five years later the wheel has turned a full circle and the Congress is back in the saddle. The lone citadel of the BJP in southern India has fallen to the Congress in the recent State assembly elections not because of anything dramatically positive done by the Congress but due to poor governance, internal squabbles, rampant corruption and instability under the BJP rule. In the popular soccer jargon, the BJP has scored a self-goal.
Ahead of the elections to five state assemblies – Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhatisgarh and Mizoram — and the 2014 national elections, Karnataka offers lessons for both the BJP and the Congress but seldom do these principal Indian political players learn the right lessons from what could be useful pointers.
The Congress has everything going for it – it has been given a clear mandate by the electorate and needs to depend on nobody outside to deliver results. It has been given another chance to set things right, but will it honour the clear mandate for change? Factionalism and internal squabbling have been the bane of the Congress for long. Therefore, all eyes would be on the new government to see if the Karnataka Congress has been chastened by the loss of power for many years. That the party has too many leaders in Karnataka and some of them are prone to undercut the chosen leader is a sad reflection of how things are the same. Already, one of the frontrunners for chief ministership, G. Parameshwara, is nursing a grouse against another prominent contender Siddaramaiah of having engineered his defeat in the assembly elections which has ruled him (Parameshwara) out of contention. Significantly, Parameshwara had Sonia Gandhi’s confidence and would perhaps have been chosen as chief minister had he not been defeated. Siddaramaiah, who is best suited to don the mantle, had left Janata Dal (S) six years ago to join the Congress and evokes strong dislike among diehard Congressmen like Mallikarjun Kharge who is also a strong aspirant for chief ministership.
While initially the chief ministerial aspirants may fall in line on a diktat from Sonia Gandhi, it would be no mean task to control dissidence in the long run, whosoever is the choice of the high command for chief minister. Internal squabbles may, therefore, be as much an impediment for the Congress leadership as they were for the BJP. It is also true that like the BJP regime, the Congress, too, has indulged in corruption and nepotism whenever it was in power in the state. Yet, the positive side of it is that the BJP rule had been so pathetic that the Congress can win kudos if it just gets a few things right. The party would, of course, need to keep corruption in check while giving thought and weightage to day-to-day problems of the people like power, water, garbage removal and affordable housing. The challenge is even greater for the BJP because if it has to bounce back in terms of seats in the impending Lok Sabha elections, it has to build up a credible reputation as an effective opposition that has learnt its right lessons.
The silver lining for it is that while the elections in Karnataka were fought on local issues, the parliamentary polls will be fought on the performance of the Manmohan Singh government which has been dismal, especially in its second term in office. Yet, the BJP cannot solely depend on the public perception against the Congress at the Centre. It has to show progress on the ground in its own party. Grassroots work for the welfare of people needs to be done to change the public mood in Karnataka. The party also requires to work towards greater unity and cohesion in its erstwhile southern bastion. It is widely accepted that the jettisoning of former chief minister B.S. Yeddyurappa, following charges of corruption and nepotism against him by the state’s Lok Ayukta, and the subsequent split in the party with Yeddurappa setting up his own party damaged the BJP severely. The poor leadership that his successor chief ministers Sadananda Gowda and Jagadish Shettar provided to the state when corruption was given a free rein also affected the BJP’s fortunes grievously.
The BJP must recognise that one of the reasons for its failure was its obsession with self-preservation at the cost of governance. The much-depleted BJP will now have to make its presence felt by taking up public issues in right earnest with responsibility and effectiveness. It would also need to identify and nurture a few leaders with impeccable credentials. The party high command, too, would need to play a constructive role in developing the party in Karnataka.
The people of Karnataka are not prone to giving an incumbent government too long to show results. Perhaps, that’s why no government has won a second term in succession since 1985. That poses a massive challenge for the Congress. Not only must it give the state a clean administration but it must strive to restore Bengaluru to its erstwhile glory through good governance. Bengaluru’s infrastructure is crying for attention. So is the state’s development, which is lacking drive and energy for the last few years.
(Kamlendra Kanwar is a Bangalore-based political commentator.)
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