NEW DELHI: Given the crushing defeat of Opposition parties in the Lok Sabha and the abrupt exit of Rahul Gandhi as Congress president, the political crisis in Karnataka was only to be expected, said Sanjay Kumar, director at the New Delhi-based think tank Centre for the Study of Developing Societies-Lokniti. Kumar said it is also possible that similar developments occur in other states, say, Madhya Pradesh. Politicians from various parties are flocking to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) because they don’t see a future in their own parties, he added. Edited excerpts from an interview:
How do you see the political developments in Karnataka? What is your view of the role of governor Vajubhai Vala and speaker K.R. Ramesh Kumar in the political crisis?
It is a big political crisis in Karnataka and I think the longer the crisis continues, the messier it is going to become. While it is good to look at rule books, when there is a crisis, people start to read between lines in the rule book and it is being done not to resolve the crisis but to deepen it further. This is not good for politics and I think this is what is being done. Everybody is contesting for their power, whether it is the governor, speaker or chief minister. Everyone is trying to define and redefine what is in their power. If it was being done to defuse the crisis or redefine powers of governor, speaker or chief minister, then it would be good for politics but they are only deepening the crisis. What is happening in Karnataka is sad. People’s trust in politics has declined and this will further lower the trust of the people.
How big a loss will it be for the Congress-Janata Dal (Secular), or JD(S), coalition if the government falls?
After the assembly election in Karnataka, when these two parties formed a government, it was seen as secular forces coming together. Leaders of almost all political parties except BJP and its allies came for the swearing-in ceremony; they were all on the dais holding hands. It gave hope to the non-BJP, non-NDA (Nationalist Democratic Alliance) parties that secular forces would come together to deny BJP a second term at the Centre. But this didn’t work in Delhi when the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and Congress tried to form an alliance. So now, if the government falls, especially after the defeat in 2019 general elections, I don’t think this is a big setback. This was expected after the crushing defeat in Lok Sabha polls, because Congress and JD(S) leaders were not at their best terms. It was only a matter of time because leaders of two parties were not at good terms. If the government falls, it would not be a big setback because this was expected. It is possible that similar developments could take place in few other states as well, may be in Madhya Pradesh.
We see a trend that most members of Congress, which is in Opposition in Goa, joined BJP. Similarly, in Telangana Congress members of legislative assembly joined TRS (Telangana Rashtra Samithi). The leader of Opposition in Maharashtra, Congress leader Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil, also joined BJP. How do you look at this trend?
Clearly, people want to join the ship which is floating and nobody wants to be in the ship which is sinking. In most cases, I don’t think BJP has to do a lot of work to engineer defections, or promise prized positions, most are willingly coming to join BJP because a lot of leaders within the Congress party are demoralized, they do not see any hope. When Congress lost the 2014 general elections, there was still hope. Congress had expected defeat in 2014 general elections so it did not come as a surprise. But in 2019, even though Congress leaders did not expect to return to power, they had hoped that the performance of party would be reasonably well. The developments indicate that many Congress leaders have lost hope and now they are not even talking about 2024. Now, most people believe that BJP government would at least be in power for 10 years. This is far more challenging for the Congress compared to their defeat in 2019. Leaders are demoralized, there is no strategy. Many of these leaders feel they have a brighter future in BJP than in Congress. Ideology has very little role to play, people shift from one party to another but voters are ideologically sharply divided. We have voters who are committed to Left, Right or Congress. It is sad to see that many political leaders lack ideological leanings. It shows that opportunism is far more important for political leaders than ideology.
Will inductions from parties with different ideologies impact the BJP’s nature or ideology?
I don’t think these political leaders who are joining BJP, whether from JD(S), TDP (Telangana Desam Party), Trinamool Congress or Congress, they are coming from different political parties but it will not dilute the ideology of BJP. Few people, compared to the size of BJP as a political party, these leaders would not dilute the ideology of BJP. These leaders joining BJP may have opposed Hindutva earlier, but after joining BJP, they would have to change their own ideology. BJP may face the challenge because if these people join BJP they would expect a ticket and all those people who have worked for party, they would also expect tickets; so, this equilibrium within BJP might get disturbed in many states if this continues. If this process continues for long and people continue to join BJP, it will affect the equilibrium within BJP.
Is the absence of a strong opposition leader, after the resignation of Rahul Gandhi as Congress president, impacting the party in the states and are MLAs acting because of uncertain future?
There have been multiple difficulties with the Congress party. First, they lost the 2019 general elections, but the events that have unfolded after the elections, especially resignation of Rahul Gandhi, is a difficult point because there is no clarity on the status of his resignation, leaders do not know if he is the Congress president or not. There is no leader to lead, there is confusion within Congress, who will be the new president, would the new president able to take everyone along, these are all adding to the confusion. Rahul Gandhi’s outburst against senior leaders would also create difficulties for the party. Rahul Gandhi should have handled his resignation better and appointed a group of leaders to take decisions in the absence of a new president. It is because of this confusion and defeat in Lok Sabha polls that desertions are being witnessed.
Will the results of 2019 general elections impact assembly elections in Maharashtra, Haryana, Delhi, Jharkhand and Jammu and Kashmir in the next 3-4 months? Or would there be separate elections with focus on state chief ministers?
Elections are taking place in these states soon after general elections and if we look at the past data, whenever assembly elections takes place within 6-7 months of the general elections, there is a strong chance that states would vote for a similar manner as they had voted in the general elections. There is enough evidence to say it given the past record. I expect the verdict of these five states going to polls in 4-5 months from now could be more or less on the lines of general elections and the way people voted in Lok Sabha polls. When we say more or less on the same lines, it means BJP will be the front-runner and it has strong presence in Maharashtra, Haryana, Jharkhand and Delhi. In most states, BJP is in power. I can see a clear trend that BJP will be the single-largest party in all these states. BJP is going strong by the way people have voted for the party in general elections, but if Opposition emerges strong, then only people will see an option. Only if Opposition leaders come together and build a narrative, then only we can expect a contest. We should not expect miracles.
Opposition is in a demoralized state, how do you look at future polity?
Now everyone is talking about BJP and people say BJP is going to remain in power for 10 years. And if this is the dominant faith among the voters, and Opposition parties continue to remain without any narrative or are unable to give any hope to the people, then politics of the country would be extremely one-sided. We have some regional parties that are still strong in Telangana, West Bengal, Odisha and Tamil Nadu. There are regional parties that are strong. Opposition needs to come up with new narratives and if Opposition parties fail to do it, then the politics of this country will be far more one-sided.