The acquittal of Sajjan Kumar, a Congress leader from Delhi, was bound to create a furor because he has come to symbolize the anti-Sikh riots in 1984. Even though 29 years have lapsed since the killings, the anger has not lessened because the demand by the Sikhs to punish the guilty has not been met. Some way would have to be found to alley their hurt.
When the black and the white were at the point of clash in South Africa, a commission for law and reconciliation was appointed. The purpose was to have the truth out without pursuing the cases endlessly. Some such way in India may not meet the demands of the Sikhs, but may bring the real purpose of rioting out. A conciliation committee should not be after punishment but to find out the reasons for the crime. True, the Sikhs will not be satisfied with the mere commission but without conciliation the truth may escape us.
In the meanwhile, Karnataka goes to the polls. There is no electoral wave sweeping through state, either in favour of the ruling BJP or the Congress. Nor is there any pollster willing to bet his last penny on the mood swings of the electorate. There is disconnection between people and the political process, suggesting that the anti-incumbency factor has been fast catching up with the BJP, allowing the Congress more than a foothold—and say—in the state.
Yet irrespective of the outcome, the Karnataka results could well be the yardstick the two main parties would use to assess the atmosphere in the country with the talks of mid-term polls looming large. Even otherwise, they will put on red alert the Congress and the BJP before the four states—Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Delhi—go to election later this year and that of the Lok Sabha, due in 2014.
In fact, the timing of the assembly election in the southern state is such that it will even keep the voters in the rest of the country guessing. They would be too keen to know what the state electorate does, divided as it is between Lingayats and Vokkalligas. It seems even the caste factor will come to play a crucial role in most assembly seats in the state, as seen in the past, with the minority votes becoming the clincher.
And, as in every poll, money will play a crucial role in Karnataka. There will be no doubting about the link between the assets of a candidate and the victory. The last assembly election in the state saw as many as nine candidates winning their seat on sheer money power. One candidate has declared Rs. 690 crore as his assets.
There may not be any difference this time. Even a cursory look at the candidates’ list in Karnataka tells the story of how more and more rich people are being roped in by the parties to contest elections. From liquor lobby to mining barons to real estate owners, all have been distributed tickets by both the parties. At least 10 of those candidates, belonging to both the Congress and the BJP, have more than Rs. 100-crore worth of assets. This only strengthens my belief that in spite of the Election Commission’s efforts money factor has been steadily rising. We have seen this trend for more than a decade now and I will be surprised if more such businessmen not join the ranks in the future. The Muslim electorate will still count.
Understandably, all top political party leaders have hit the campaign trail. The Congress had their star campaigners in Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh while the BJP paraded leaders like party president Rajnath Singh, Arun Jaitley and L.K. Advani to garner votes for their respective parties. The BJP has fully unleashed Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi on the scene. His chauvinistically Hindu speeches are polarizing the state and sending such messages to the rest of the country.
The anti-BJP sentiment is a problem the ruling party will find difficult to contend with. Even otherwise, the party’s reputation was clouded by corruption and criminal cases during its entire tenure of rule, besides the internal bickering which led to former chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa quitting the BJP and forming the Karnataka Janatha Paksa (KJP). The wily politician may not win many seats but can certainly make a dent to the chances of the BJP.
Similarly, another former minister H.D. Kumaraswamy who has been out of power for the past five years has his strong support base in the Hassan district, dominated by the Vokalligas. He is capable of making deep inroads into both the Congress and BJP vote banks. Kumaraswamy has played a sharp card by accommodating those political “migrants” who were denied tickets by other parties. Yet, the Janata Dal (Secular) and the clout of Kumaraswamy are restricted to the old Mysore region.
What is shocking is that I have not seen any worthwhile issue being raised by any political party, major or minor. Instead what we hear is the dole packages, including cheap rice, laptops to students and farm loan waivers. This has become a fashion of sorts before every assembly election to woo the voters. But to get a simple majority of 113 in the 224-seat assembly will be a dream come true for both the Congress and the BJP. They may have to bank on the bits and pieces parties like the Reddy brothers’ BSR Congress and the fledgling Loksatta as well as those “rebel” independent winners to form the government. Kumaraswamy could emerge as the kingmaker.
By a quirk of fate the Congress, with its nose ahead at this stage, may well be the one to occupy the Vidhan Soudha. And if the Congress does manage to form the government, it would be an achievement of sorts because Karnataka has almost always gone against the national political currents, voting to power such parties that were not ruling at the centre. This was the pattern followed by the electorate in the state since the emergency in 1975. We are, perhaps, in for a surprise to see the reversal of that trend. EOM