FROM THE EDITOR
Whilst sceptics argued that the summit accomplished nothing, the very fact that it took place lowered anxieties in the Korean peninsula and provided an agenda for a way forward.The outcome of the Karnataka assembly elections was a combination of regrets, surprises and sheer delight, for its three main participants. The BJP having nearly won, eventually didn’t. It regretted being unable to tie up what it believed were loose ends and despite having the largest seat share in the assembly, being unable to form Government. The Congress, on the other hand, would have been surprised by the margins of its losses. Its seat count fell from 121 to 78 and if only to save face and prevent another BJP coup, such as the ones in Goa and the North East, agreed to serve as a junior partner to a delighted HD Kumaraswamy and his Janata Dal (S). This is despite having won twice the number of seats.
The key issue is whether a coalition of this sort will actually last. It is hard to say how things take turns in politics but analysts believe that the Congress, having accepted a subordinate role in desperation, would like to keep it together. Anything otherwise may play directly into the hands of the BJP. The second issue is whether the Karnataka elections reflect a changing trend in national politics – the coming together of opposition parties to counter a rising BJP and then actually win. Some analysts believe this to be the case. The basis of their judgement stems from a few instances where such a strategy previously worked. The first was the Bihar assembly election in 2015 where a multi-party alliance managed to trounce the BJP quite convincingly and form Government. More recently, the Uttar Pradesh by-polls saw the coming together of two bitter political enemies – Mayawati of the Bahujan Samaj Party and Akhilesh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party – to prevent the BJP from claiming seats that it believed it simply couldn’t lose. The alliance prevented a fracturing of the opposition vote. Finally, the Karnataka election and the coalition of the Congress and the JD(S) is suggested to be the third link in what analysts think could become a national chain. However, this theory is unconvincing.
The very fact that the summit took place and the two leaders talked to each other, rather than exchanged barbs, was an admirable start.
In Bihar, the wobbly coalition fell within eighteen months, under the weight of its own contradictions. Nitish Kumar and his JD(U) scampered back into the BJP fold and are now running the administration, while also boosting the NDA’s numbers in the upper house of Parliament. In UP’s case, what really happened is that two regional satraps buried the hatchet for a specific local election and a limited objective. It can hardly be assumed that such an arrangement will extend to the national stage with the warranted degree of stability. Both leaders thrive on their respective political constituencies and may find it unworkable to weave together a convincing story for voters. Therefore, UP and Bihar are not necessarily indicative patterns. As far as Karnataka is concerned, the Congress and the JD(S) did not actually fight the election together, but were on opposing sides. Their post-poll alliance was a last-ditch effort by the Congress to retain a strategically crucial presence on India’s political map. Even if the partnership were to last, it cannot be taken as a trend because such an inversion of political arithmetic, on the national stage, would defy logic. Moreover, it is apparent that national elections are fought on different sets of issues, with voters often taking sides on individual icons. On this count, despite the popularity of regional politicians within their provinces, few command national appeal. The BJP, quite convincingly with Mr Modi as its icon, retains an edge.
On balance, the Karnataka elections bring positive news for the BJP and its widening appeal. Growing beyond its traditional pockets of influence in the north, west and central India, it is now the single largest party in a southern state. The BJP’s election strategy has three dimensions to it. First, an iconic leader, second some excellent election management and third, the consolidation of the Hindu vote. Even some sort of opposition unity will find these to be a challenge.
Adit Jain, Editor