We Indians are used to rehearsals. We did it as kids in school plays, where even the boy playing the part of the tree had to come for rehearsal dressed as one. We continue to do it as grown-ups – with the uniquely Indian ritual called “trial” ball in gully cricket. Even e-commerce today allows you to sample a sofa before you actually pay for it, so why should politics be different?
What has gone down in Karnataka, all the drama and excitement notwithstanding, is a rehearsal for 2019 – and a poor one at that. The BJP looks at Karnataka as its “door to the south”. Not being able to make much of an impact in 2016 in Kerala and Tamil Nadu, and with even the TDP withdrawing from the NDA, a win in Karnataka is important for the party’s pan-India image. Especially after the mega-boost it received in the Northeast a few months ago. As for the Congress, which pitched the “Karnataka model of governance” as a counter to the famed Gujarat model, the state elections have also been a face-saving exercise. If they lose even this, what’s left of them?
And this is the reason India has been watching this hotly contested election so closely: Even though a state election has no control over the Lok Sabha elections of 2019, save for a notional value, it is going to serve as the barometer for what we’re to witness next year. This is a little like a closing-term report card for the BJP, a few days short of their fourth anniversary of coming to power.
Let’s look at the stage here – we are the world’s largest democracy being led by perhaps the world’s littlest men bickering away about the recent past, the deep past, the immediate future, and the grand future – basically everything except the present. The little kids live in the past, bickering about that time remember, when you cheated at Monopoly? No you did it first. No you looted, no you looted, you started a riot, no you started a riot, you were corrupt, no you were corrupt first. You destroyed democracy, no you did it first. I went to a temple, no, I went to a temple, I ate with a Dalit, no, but I ate first. This is exactly how election campaigning in this country unfolds.
In Karnataka, BS Yeddyurappa, BJP’s chief ministerial candidate, declared days before the counting, “I will fly to Delhi on the 15th once the results are announced and meet Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi. I will invite him and others for the swearing in ceremony which is going to happen most likely on the 17th.” This did not go down well with Congress’s Siddaramaiah who retaliated with two words: “Mentally disturbed”. This is a chief minister we are speaking about.
While campaigning for Karnataka, Amit Shah accused the Congress of dividing the country “on the basis of caste”. Ironically, Congress leaders – down from party president Rahul Gandhi, to P Chidambaram, and possibly every opposition leader there is – have uttered the same words time and again since Modi came to power in 2014.
As if on cue, in Bangalore, Congress chief Rahul Gandhi said, in response to a question, that he was ready to be prime minister “if the Congress party is the biggest party” in 2019. PM Modi, of course, did not take this lightly. At a rally in Bengarpet, Modi mocked Rahul’s lofty ambitions and called him a bully. “How can someone just declare himself the PM? This is simply nothing but arrogance,” the PM said.
Move over vikas, childish critics are here. The BJP’s promise of acche din is all but forgotten, even by their strongest detractors, and “progress with Congress” is a slogan that is meant only for the manifesto. Our political landscape now resembles the verbal arena of a WWE RAW fight, where everyone is determined to give each other choke slams from hell in front of an audience of 1.2 billion.
Eventually, in 2019, our only choice is no choice at all.
In the movie Chicago, Richard Gere plays the role of a corrupt but greatly successful lawyer. The jury loves him, hangs on to his every word. His motto is simple: Give them the old Razzle Dazzle and nobody will give a shit about the truth.
And the truth is intensely boring – the two biggest political rivals in the country are essentially the same party. On every count that matters, they have done pretty much the same thing. If the BJP government has earned a bad rap for the Gujarat riots, the Congress has 1984 on its record. If the 2G scam and Coalgate sat on UPA’s conscience, the BJP has the dubious honour of Jay Shah and Nirav Modi.
At the end of the day, politicians have gotten richer, parties bigger, the people poorer, prices higher. It’s the same ideology, same beliefs, same flawed execution. Given how many former Congress leaders the BJP has inducted, they might as well be the same party too.
The data is simple… it just isn’t very exciting.
Eventually, in 2019, our only choice is no choice at all. Perhaps we shall see that rarest of rare coalitions: BJP and Congress coming together to form the government. That way, we can at least end the farce of having two parties.
Good luck to us for 2019. When the option is the same as the original, there really is no option at all.