Karnataka Election proves Modi and Shah are not invincible

Swati Chaturvedi

New Delhi, May 20, 2018

With his latest – and presumably last – innings as Chief Minister of Karnataka lasting all of two days, B S Yeddyurappa is now headed for the political pasture known as the Bharatiya Janata Party’s ‘Margdarshak Mandal.’

The Yeddyurappa drama

Thrust on to the proscenium to play a role for which there was no script or support, Yeddyurappa is actually the fall guy for the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah duo who were finally reined in by the Sangh mothership which found itself publicly embarrassed by mounting audio evidence of a naked power grab in the form of recordings in which top BJP leaders were heard offering bribes and threatening Congress and Janata Dal (Secular) MLAs.

While elaborate attempts will be made by the embedded ‘panna pramukhs’ in the media to wipe the giant corruption egg off the faces of Modi and Shah, no one should be fooled by Yeddyurappa’s apparent act of ‘martyrdom’ in the assembly.

The dubious floor test

Authoritative sources told The Wire that it was Shah who was pressing for a floor test despite not having the numbers. It is only after, the RSS, via Union minister Nitin Gadkari, intervened that Yeddyurappa was saved the embarrassment of certain defeat.

BJP sources say Yeddyurappa had to bear the full measure of Shah’s wrath over the past few days and that the repeated references he made to Modi and Shah in his farewell speech were his way of reminding BJP’s cadres – as he ended his innings on a defeated note – who the real authors of this debacle were.

A senior BJP leader who is in the aforementioned Mandal told The Wire, “Modi and Shah can only humiliate people, what else did poor Yeddyurappa expect.”

Implications for Election Year

So, what does this all mean in terms of the broader political scenario?

With the Modi-Shah duo’s take-no-prisoners approach, the Opposition has understood that politics is a zero sum game for the BJP and that they will need to unite or perish.

This realisation is, of course, the basis for the new but unstable alliance of the Congress and JD(S) in Karnataka. Congress managers know that if they had allied with the JD(S) before the election, the combine would have swept the state and decimated the BJP.

The hard fight put in by Congress President Rahul Gandhi to protect his flock and keep the Congress and JD(S) united unfolded like a thriller – complete with a midnight knock on the doors of the Supreme Court.

The Governor’s Role

Governor Vajubhai Vala, who is one of the richest Gujarat politicians and who vacated his Rajkot seat for Modi when he was parachuted in as Chief Minister of Gujarat in 2001 had given the BJP an astonishing 15 days to cobble together a majority.

The Congress’s decision to mount an urgent legal challenge was crucial because it led to the Supreme Court giving the BJP just two days to prove its majority – not enough time for Shah and the Reddy mining barons to see through the process of buying MLAs that they had started.

After the setback of failing to retain Karnataka in the election, Gandhi quickly recovered his political smarts. In an aggressive fight back, he sent trusted senior leaders Ashok Gehlot and Ghulam Nabi Azad to keep the Congress flock together while UPA convener Sonia Gandhi reached out to JD(S) leader H D Deve Gowda.

Drafting D K Shivakumar – the Congress’s politician of ‘last resort,’ who had fought a similar Shah-Modi poaching bid during Ahmed Patel’s election to the Rajya Sabha, was another smart move.

The fact that Congress and JD(S) MLAs did not defect despite the swearing in of Yeddyurappa should make Shah and Modi worry. Says a senior BJP leader, “The way we are going, we have almost become radioactive for allies. Just imagine, Shah deployed unlimited resources and even used the central agencies to issue threats and yet a tiny regional party did not yield.”

The Fear Factor ends

The Karnataka setback is hugely significant as election season dawns with barely 12 months to go for the big battle of 2019.

A BJP bereft of allies will be in all sorts of trouble. In their obsessive bid for Karnataka, Modi and Shah have inadvertently ensured total opposition unity.

While the maths will be worked out later, a senior Congress Leader involved in the Karnataka negotiations said that one of the first demonstrations of the new coalition politics will be a united opposition turning out at the swearing in of H D Kumaraswamy.

Mayawati, Akhilesh Yadav, Sharad Pawar, Sitaram Yechury, Rahul Gandhi, Mamata Banerjee and Tejashwi Yadav are all expected to attend.

Earlier differences – and the contradictions inherent in un-entitled ambition – appear to have sunk as the Modi-Shah naked power grab in Karnataka unfolded in all its unedifying glory.

Senior BJP leaders and RSS managers are now concerned about what this means for 2019 even as Modi and Shah are unrepentant.

Party sources say they are hoping clever headline management will save the situation.

Shah in trouble

However, Shah is now in trouble with the Sangh, which had earlier told him over three meetings that they would see how Karnataka unfolds as most of the party wants Rajnath Singh to replace him as BJP President.

While Shah was on a winning streak, the voices against him were muted. But now, after Saturday’s debacle, some rebel voices will speak out.

Modi, who addressed a record 31 meetings in Karnataka, could not quite create a ‘Modi Wave’ despite getting all the credit for the BJP emerging as the single largest party.

The compromise with corruption – with the tainted Ballari barons back – is also going to cost the BJP its anti-corruption image, something that the RSS has been pointing out.

The purported audio recording of Murlidhar Rao – seconded from the RSS and now Shah’s favourite General Secretary – allegedly offering huge bribes is a taking point in the Sangh.

The so-called ‘Chanakya Niti’ and ‘Master Strokes’ of Shah and Modi which were applauded by a pliant media have ensured that all political parties view the BJP with distrust.

Rahul reinvigorated

Even as Modi’s image has taken a beating, the unkindest cut may well be a reinvigorated Rahul Gandhi, who directly lowered the boom on the Prime Minister in his remarks to the press soon after Yeddyurappa’s resignation.

Congress managers are also making much of the fact that Rahul spoke to his MLAs while they were being bussed back to the Vidhan Soudha for the trust vote.

Says a senior Congress Leader, “Karnataka has ensured that he finally touches ground reality.”

Mayawati, who has a lone MLA in Karnataka, flew in a trusted aide to ensure that he was not poached and was in constant touch with Ahmed Patel throughout. She also spoke to Deve Gowda to ensure that he did not change his mind.

All these straws in the wind indicate that the opposition is finally getting its unity index up. The fact is that it has no choice.

Karnataka has demonstrated that Modi and Shah are not invincible and that the big fight of 2019 is not going to be the walkover that Saheb and his party president have projected.

Swati Chaturvedi is an Indian Journalist who has held senior positions in many leading newspapers of the country. The above article appeared in The Wire, (thewire.in) Web Edition on May 20, 2018. It has been reproduced here with the permission of Siddharth Varadarajan, also a Founding Editor. Established in India on May 10, 2015, as an editorially and financially independent entity, The Wire is committed to promoting the values of democracy and journalism.

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Narendra Modi and Amit Shah

(Picture from The Wire)

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