Peace activist Cedric Prakash writes this piece as the state of Karnataka pauses before election Day. Several people have predicted that winds of change are blowing, but what are the issues?
Karnataka has gone silent today after a high velocity and vicious election campaign. With Assembly Elections 2023 just a couple of days away on 10 May, there is much at stake!! Many refer to it as the ‘mother -of -all-elections’! In could well be the defining moment of India’s political history!
Serious students of political sciences and of politics in general, assert that a defeat for the BJP in the Karnataka elections would mean that the doors of democracy are still wide open for the overthrow of the fascist regime in the 2024 General Elections. On the other hand, a win for the BJP in the Karnataka elections, could be a roller-coast ride towards winning the stakes at the 2024 hustings. It would in all probability, hasten the realization of their ultimate goal: the establishment of a nation-state based on the ‘Hindutva’ ideology. It would then be the ‘maha’ coronation of their parent body the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in their centenary year 2025, as the undisputed rulers of India. It is a dream which they have been hankering for, even during the days of the British Colonial rule!
The Karnataka Elections is therefore a watershed. From the way they have been campaigning, the BJP is without doubt in despair- mode. Besides anti-incumbency there are a whole range of issues and factors ranged against them. Their star-campaigner, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, visited Karnataka several times before the elections were announced, engaging in a slew of inaugurations (of roads, bridges and what-not) and ribbon-cutting ceremonies. During the campaign, he has gone full throttle with rallies and road-shows which continued right till May 8!
Many a slip between the cup and the lip
Many poll surveys and forecasts predict a victory for the Congress. These surveys however, are sometimes wrong; there is many a slip between the cup and the lip! For the BJP, the last few days before elections are normally very important: they have mastered the art of galvanizing crowds and even in door-to-door contact. They have money, muscle, media and manipulations. They stop at nothing! Till the last vote is counted and the final results are declared, on 13 May, the people will have to keep their fingers crossed!
There are several critical issues which are bound to influence the voter’s decision in the elections. Many of are inter-related but no one can deny that fundamental to all of them are the issues of survival: the roti, kapda aur makaan of the ordinary people; of their lives and livelihood. The cost of living has spiralled upwards as never before! Pathetic governance y has made it impossible, if not extremely difficult, for the poor to make both ends meet. They have particularly no purchasing power: they eke out a hand-to-mouth survival. Unemployment is at an all time high. It is also a fact that at the very last moment the BJP has the money poor to buy up the poor – as they have done in several elections across the country in the recent years! No one is sure though, if that money power will translate into votes at the end, this time too!
Yogendra Yadav is one of the country’s best known political scientists, psephologists, activist and much more! He has his ears to the ground! For the last weeks he has been in Karnataka with grassroots individuals/groups monitoring the run-up to the elections. He has also been providing insightful analysis on the ground reality.
In a recent article in ‘The Print’ (4 May) entitled “Congress ‘hawa’ to class divide — four observations in the run-up to Karnataka election’, Yadav is clear about which party will be given the peoples’ mandate. Saying, “The lower you go down, the stronger is the hawa. No poor voter had a good word for the BJP. As I mentioned in my article last week, there is a clear rich-poor divide among the voters of Karnataka. The richer the voter, the lower the lead for the Congress, and vice versa for the BJP. This was starkly evident on the ground. As soon as you speak to a poor person, they begin to rattle off everyday consumption items that are inaffordable now. Gas cylinder prices top the chart. “Earlier, we were making do with firewood. They gave us gas. Now we can’t go back to firewood. Nor can we afford the gas cylinder,” said one.” He goes on to add, “Almost everyone complained about the cut in free rice from 10 kg per person per month during the Congress’ time to 5 kg now. Petrol and diesel prices come next. Farmers complained about fertilizer prices. They mock the Kisan Samman Nidhi: “They give us 2,000 but take away more than that from our pocket.” More ordinary people know about GST and blamed it for the higher prices than you might imagine”.
Corruption is a systemic issue
Corruption is another systemic issue which has plagued the people of Karnataka. It is common knowledge that the BJP has been demanding a forty percent commission from contractors for Government projects. In fact, some time ago a contractor from Belgavi, Santosh Patil committed suicide. Before taking his own life, he had accused the BJP Minister Eshwarappa and his associates of not releasing payments for road work worth Rs 4 crore that he had done at Hindalga in Belagavi, and of demanding a commission of 40 per cent. Several religious seers have also accused the BJP of polluting religious sanctity by demanding a 30 per cent commission from mutts and 40 per cent from temples. Several ministers have been accused of amassing mind-boggling amounts of wealth through corrupt practices. There is no doubt that corruption is mainstreamed in the country, and exists across the board in most political parties; but no one can compete with or reach the levels of corruption of the ruling regime.
That the Prime Minister so visibly misuses his office to campaign for his political party, is a blatant case of corruption entailing huge expenditure to the Government coffers generated by tax-payers money. His roadshows have put the ordinary citizen to great inconvenience and denied the daily wagers of their day’s earnings!
Violence and disharmony, Miscarried Justice
Communalism is certainly high on the agenda of the BJP! Karnataka was once a haven of communal harmony, but over the years through a meticulously divisive campaign, denigrating and demonizing minorities it has succeeded in polarizing communities on religious lines and have kept the communal cauldron boiling! In September 2008, they attacked the Christians and institutions in Mangalore. The perpetrators were never brought to book. They continued spewing their hate and slow-fire violence across the State.
Then on 24 January 2009 when a group of goons belonging to the extremist outfit the ‘Sri Ram Sene’ barged into a pub in Mangalore, beat up young women and men, screaming at them for having “loose morals”. The group claimed that the women were violating traditional Indian values. Two women were hospitalized for the injuries they sustained. However, after more than nine years, a lower court in Karnataka on 13 March acquitted twenty- six of the attackers including the founder of the group, Pramod Muthalik for ‘want of evidence’. This was indeed a travesty of justice. There is ample amount of video evidence to show how blatantly the goons had carried out the attack. Muthalik continues with his viciousness; this year, on 19 February he incited his audience saying “I am instructing our workforce, if we lose one Hindu girl, we must trap 10 Muslim women …adding “every Hindu must keep a weapon at home for the protection of cows, women and temples.” The police are afraid to file an FIR on him!
As part of their agenda the BJP has brought in though the back-door, a draconian anti-conversion law; stoked emotive issues like that of ‘love jihad’, ‘use of hijab’, ‘Tipu Sultan’; consistently attacked Christian and Muslim places of worship and their adherents. Just before the Assembly elections the Karnataka governments decided to scrap the four per cent Muslim reservation quota ahead. The Supreme Court said that the decision was ‘flawed’ and currently the execution of that decision is on hold. The BJP manifesto says it will bring in a Uniform Civil Code (UCC) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC) is a clear sign of what they intend doing should they regain power in the State! Incidentally thousands of names from the minority communities (especially Muslims and Christians) have disappeared from the electoral rolls and they will be unable to exercise their franchise despite written protests to the Election Commission!
The Sangh Parivar, with all its affiliates, is a fascist organization. They are out to destroy the secular fabric of the country. Time and again the likes of Anant Kumar Hegde, a BJP leader, has been saying “we are here to change the Constitution”. A victory for the BJP in these elections would be a significant step closer towards the realization of this one objective. The Sangh Parivar, in no way represents the vast majority of the Hindus of the country. Sometime ago a BJP legislator from North Karnataka, amplified the agenda of his party when he vociferously proclaimed, “This election is very important. It is not about roads, drinking water or gutters. This election is about Hindus and Muslims. Those who want to build the Babri Masjid, those who want to celebrate Tipu Jayanti, let them vote for the Congress. Those among you who want Shivaji Maharaj, those who want Sambhaji Maharaj, those who want to pray at a Lakshmi temple, you must vote for the BJP.” Full page advertisements by the BJP in most Karnataka dailies today (8 May) unashamedly proclaim their communal agenda! The gloves are off – the claws are visible!
Freedom of Speech takes a severe beating
Freedom of speech and expression, has taken a severe beating in Karnataka. The fascist forces have left no stone unturned to throttle anybody who takes a stand for justice and truth or for that, matter thinks differently.
On 30 August 2015, eminent intellectual Prof. M. M. Kalburgi was brutally murdered in Dharwad. On 5 September 2017, journalist-activist Gauri Lankesh was gunned down in Bangalore. Both Kalburgi and Lankesh were highly critical of the Sangh Parivar. On 21 March, this year, well-known Kannada actor and activist Chetan Kumar, was arrested for allegedly hurting religious sentiments with his tweet on Hindutva. Kumar was arrested by the police after a Bajrang Dal activist filed a complaint stating that the actor has hurt the sentiments of ‘Hindus’. He was booked under 295 (a) and 505 (b) of the Indian Penal Code. In his tweet on March 20, the actor had allegedly said, “Hindutva is built on lies,” and listed out “examples of lies” — Hindutva ideologue V D Savarkar’s statement on the Indian nation; Babri masjid site as the birthplace of Rama; Uri Gowda and Nanje Gowda killed Tipu Sultan”. He further shared that “Hindutva can be defeated by truth … truth is equality”. No one can deny these facts. Interestingly enough, when BJP leaders indulge in hate speech and incitement to violence like Amit Shah saying that “if the Congress comes to power in Karnataka there will be communal riots.” nothing happens to them!
There are several other issues in Karnataka; these include rampant and wanton destruction of the environment; the divisions of society on the lines of caste and the criminalisation of politics. The campaigns of the major parties have not touched seriously and objectively most of the key critical issues. There has been on the other hand slew of promises of all kinds of ‘freebies’ if elected to power. Above all, mud-slinging, hate speeches and naked populism have been high on the anvil!
There is also the danger of complacency, particularly on the part of some national political parties. For absolutely no reason, when the going is in their favour, some political parties have shot themselves in the foot. They have scored self-goals by targeting individuals and using distasteful rhetoric and symbols. Hopefully, these will not have a decisive bearing in the final results. It is now imperative that all those who cherish democracy and the pluralistic fabric of the country, come out and vote decisively on D-day 10 May! Yes, there is hope! Karnataka has an excellent and vibrant civil society of deeply concerned citizens and even some highly committed ex-civil servants who have been leaving no stone unturned to make this election a mandate of the people who matter. The ‘Bahutva Karnataka’ and ‘Wake up Karnataka’ are just two of civil society campaigns that have been doing laudable work and reaching out to thousands all over. Their painstaking efforts and those of others will hopefully help bring the change which Karnataka so urgently needs – for the good and future of India!
Yogendra Yadav, concludes his article with the words, “Yet, an invisible hand — or perhaps four of them — is fanning a hawa that feels like Bengaluru’s cool evening breeze after a day of scorching sun. All signs point to an electoral mandate that can counter the hegemonic power. As they say, dissent is like water. It finds its way”. The renowned Kannada writer and intellectual Devanur Mahadeva minces no words when he says, “the double engine government is not running, it has stopped …it needs to be dumped asap!”
The Karnataka Elections is about the Constitution of India…it is about the soul of India… it is about the future of India! As one nears Election Day in a couple of days from now, the only narrative and slogan that must be uppermost in the hearts, minds and lips of every single concerned citizen of Karnataka and of the country is: “Karnataka calls for change and will do it!”
Fr Cedric Prakash SJ is a well known human rights, reconciliation and peace activist/writer. The above piece has been slightly edited for clarity and style.
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