Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Some observations on the Karnataka Election Outcome... Will appreciate comments/remarks because I intend developing this into a long essay...

The BJP has reasons to celebrate its victory in Karnataka. Coming as it did after a series of defeats since May 2004, the morale of the party’s cadre has been boosted. Barring Gujarat, where the BJP was expected to retain power a few months ago, the party was faced with a serious crisis of confidence and Karnataka did make a crucial difference. The other important message from the Karnataka polls is that the Rahul Gandhi magic is not enough to revive the Congress.

It is possible to see a third message from Karnataka: That it is end of the road for H.D.Deve Gowda and his sons. It will be a matter of a few months before the Janata Dal (S) is reduced to a small little group serving Gowda and his family. It will cease to be a party soon and Gowda’s sons too will turn to some petty tricks to preserve themselves. The party is already a rump of what it was a decade ago and that will hardly make a difference in the lives of the people of Karnataka.

The BJP, meanwhile, will soon be caught with faction feuds and Chief Minister Yediyurappa will end up the same way Keshubhai Patel ended up in Gujarat. It is difficult to point out the leader around whom dissidence will grow. However, one could see the potential for such dissidence emanating from Ananth Kumar; he may find the resources for such a move coming from the mining mafia from Bellary and the clout that the Reddy brothers command in the party now is difficult to be glossed over. For those who do not know who the Reddy brothers are, let me point out that they helped the party win seats in and around Bellary in this election.

There are reports, already, of the independent MLAs demanding choice portfolios. While the party will be able to tide over this and ensure that the independents are not given more than what they deserve (I mean they will not be given the crucial Home ministry as one of them is demanding) the fact is that any ministry will be good enough to them to make a pile. And it is a fact that at least 3 of those independents who are now supporting Yediyurappa are close to Sidaramaiah, who grew up in the Janata Dal and is now in the Congress.

Be that as it may. These are things that would take at least a few more months before they unfold. And we will have occasion to discuss that then. This is time to discuss some of the factors that helped the BJP emerge as the ruling party now. And such a discussion will help us make sense of the Karnataka mandate.

To begin with, the emergence of the BJP into a force in Karanataka has to do with the nature of the opposition politics in the State. It all began with the historic split in the Congress in 1969. The fact of the matter is that the anti-Congress platform in Karnataka emerged from out of the Congress party itself and in that sense was not an ideological political force as it happened in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Kerala. In that sense, there are significant similarities in the historical roots of anti-Congress politics in Karnataka and Gujarat.

If the face of the anti-Congress politics in Gujarat was Morarjee Desai, it was S.Nijalingappa in Karnataka. And that meant that the political discourse, in these two States, was determined by two Congress parties; Indira’s Congress and the Congress of those who opposed Indira. The most prominent feature of this opposition – the Congress (O) – was that it was nothing more than a conglomerate of leaders rather than an organised force. And it could win elections in Gujarat in 1975 and in Karnataka in 1983.

In both the States, these forces against Indira were identified as the Janata Party. Despite the Janata Party’s disintegration in 1979, the political grouping and its mass support survived in these two States longer. It is best to remember that the Janata Dal remained the largest party in Gujarat even in 1990 and the BJP was only its junior partner there. The final end came in 1995 when the BJP emerged into the anti-Congress force supplanting the Janata Dal and the party remains in power there since then.

This process took a little longer in Karnataka. And that was because the Janata Dal in the State consisted of a number of leaders who built socio-political constituencies around them. Ramakrishna Hegde gathered the Brahmins around him, S.R.Bomai had the Lingayats around and H.D.Deve Gowda the Vockaligas. The combination, however synthetic it may have been, did sustain the party and when these three leaders got together, the Janata Dal emerged powerful.

The disintegration of this began in 1996 when Hegde was thrown out of the Dal by Gowda. Bommai reduced himself to bargaining for ministerial office. And Gowda would turn the party into a Vockaliga outfit. Even this restricted social base began to desert the party when the edifice was turned into an instrument to promote his own self and his family by Gowda. This made the BJP emerge into a force in Karnataka and in this sense, it is similar to the party’s emergence and growth in Gujarat.

And it is most likely that in due course, as it happened in Gujarat, the BJP would turn Karnataka into a ground to carry out its Hindutwa agenda. And when that happens, the Congress and the Janata Dal will not be there to be seen and counted. The other point to be made in this context is that the political trajectory in Karnataka is different from that of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. And as for the general comment that the BJP has now arrived in Southern India, the fact that is missed out in this general statement is that the trajectory of anti-Congress politics in Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala are not the same as it is in Karnataka.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Just thought this way when I read about the hooch tragedy in Krishnagiri, Tamil Nadu.

The tragedy that stuck the poor and the hapless families in Krishnagiri district due to hooch can be seen from two sides. The more populist one would be to blame the bootleggers and of course those who consumed the stuff. Both are guilty of having defied the law and invited trouble. Those who drank the killer brew could have avoided the risk. And since they took the risk, the blame squarely lies on them. A nuanced version of this position could be that the personnel from the law enforcing agencies – the Prohibition Enforcement Wing of the Tamil Nadu police in this instance – failed in their duty by letting hooch be brewed and sold with such impunity and hence their share of responsibility for the tragedy must be pointed out and action taken against those who were vested with this job in the district. The blunt as well as the nuanced position, however, gloss over some harsh realities involved.

Let it be stated, right at the outset, that all those who lost their lives or are battling against death in this instance are stricken by poverty and hence also suffer from the consequences of it such as illiteracy, lack of awareness on issues concerning their own health. The fact that they struggle every day to keep themselves alive also leads them to a lifestyle that does not allow them to think about their own future in the same way as those who can afford to plan their lives and audit the risk factors before they chose what they eat and drink. Hence they end up consuming the illicit brew. It is available at prices they can afford. It is also a fact that the poor and the hapless drink for reasons that are different from those that takes the urban elite and their middle class brethren to the bars and the socialite parties.

This is where the issue needs to be tackled. It is possible to prevent such tragedies only when the state and the civil society organisations (including the trade unions), join hands in a campaign that foregrounds a rights based approach to health, education and well being among the poor. Such a campaign will obviously unsettle the forces behind the hooch industry. Hooch, after all, is an issue in societies across the villages and small towns throughout the country. It is not a local problem in Krishnagiri. And an end to this is possible only when the nexus between the bootlegger and the establishment is broken. Only a political movement can achieve this. In other words, when the poor are conscious of their own selves and begin to think about their future, they will resist the temptation to consume the killer brew.