Karl Paul Reinhold Niebuhr, an American theologian, ethicist, and commentator on politics and public affairs, had once said of democracy: “Man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible; but man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary”. It is this dance of democracy, a product of man’s capacity and cold-bloodedness, that the nation is witnessing with awe today.
The power of democracy should make all of us humble. “Demography is destiny” for nations, said French sociologist Auguste Comte. But for political parties “democracy is destiny”. When we formed governments in a number of states, it was through the provisions of democracy. And when others did it, they also invoked the same democracy for their actions.
Hence the debate is as much about the nature and character of statecraft under democracy as it is about ethics. Thomas Jefferson had once said that democracy means that “51 per cent of people would take away the rights of 49 per cent”. In 21st century India, we can afford to put it slightly differently. In an enlightened society, nobody can take away the rights of others. Nevertheless, the important point is that it is going to be a “51 per cent election”. The unholy and unprincipled alliance that the Opposition parties seek to build across the country gives the BJP an excellent opportunity to turn to the people in the next election and ask for a “51 per cent” mandate.
I tried to sum up the message for the BJP from the Karnataka results in the above three paragraphs. At the end of four years of governance, just one year away from the next general election, the party can’t afford to miss this profound message.
We have had the best governance in the last four years. The economy is doing very well despite predictions to the contrary. With around 7.5 per cent GDP growth rate projected for fiscal year 2018, India stands at number one position in Asia. The IMF’s World Economic Outlook Report, too, predicts that India will continue to remain the fastest growing major economy in the world for the next many years. “Growth in India is projected to increase from 6.7 per cent in 2017 to 7.4 per cent in 2018 and 7.8 per cent in 2019 (unchanged from the October WEO), lifted by strong private consumption as well as fading transitory effects of the currency exchange initiative and implementation of the national goods and services tax. Over the medium term, growth is expected to gradually rise with continued implementation of structural reforms that raise productivity and incentivise private investment,” says the IMF as per reports that appeared in the media last month.
The prime minister’s popularity remains at an all-time high after four years. It has been proved time and again not only through surveys but also through the popular mandates in elections in the last few years. In Uttar Pradesh, he addressed around 70 rallies and a couple of roadshows. And the results were there for everyone to see. In Tripura, the prime minister was supposed to do three rallies, but the local leadership wanted one more. So he ended up doing four rallies. Again, the results were there for everyone to see. We were expecting around 35 seats in the 60-member Assembly. But we ended up winning 45 seats, practically decimating the CPM.
In Karnataka, too, the prime minister had done 21 rallies. He was originally scheduled to address only 12 rallies. But looking at the public response for his rallies and the demand for him from all sides, he was requested to do more. It is his rallies that had put the BJP on top in Karnataka. The prime minister adds critical thrust to the efforts of the party in every election.
But then, where the emergence of BJP as the largest party, increasing its tally from 40 seats in 2013 to 104 in this election, is a matter of satisfaction for cadres and leaders alike, it didn’t culminate in what was anticipated: A BJP-led government in Karnataka. The BJP fell short by half-a-dozen seats. And the show was stolen by two losers coming together — the Congress that had lost around 45 seats in this election and the JD(S) that, too, ended up three seats less.
Karnataka once again highlights the Achilles Heel for the Congress party: Its uninspiring leadership. Rahul Gandhi fails as a vote-catcher once again. It is regional leaders that continue to be at the helm of the Congress’ showing, whether in Punjab or in Karnataka. There is something for the BJP also to understand here. Assembly elections, especially in states in the country’s south and east, need strong regional leadership, which can be augmented by the efforts of the central leadership. The provincial leadership of the BJP in respective states should be asked to shoulder the greater burden. It paid off for us in many states earlier, including in the Northeast.
We are back to an unstable situation in Karnataka. In 1996, Deve Gowda became the prime minister with just 46 MPs in his party. In 2018, his son H D Kumaraswamy becomes the chief minister with just 37 MLAs. The Congress is cold-blooded and ruthless. It allowed Deve Gowda to stay in power just for 11 months. Let us hope Kumaraswamy gets a little more time at the Vidhana Soudha in Bengaluru.
(The article was originally published in Indian Express on May 30, 2018. Views expressed are personal)