Karnataka votes today. If this election is different from previous ones, it is because the tragedy that has overtaken the state stands out more starkly today than before. Led by some wise leaders and legendary administrators, Karnataka had become famous for its progressive pace. Decline set in with the 1975 Emergency, developing rapidly into decay and then ruin.
All parties contributed to this process of destruction and that is why a change of parties will not alter the situation in any significant way. Our national misfortune is that electoral democracy has reduced all parties to the same level of opportunism, amorality and lack of ideology. Democracy has become a shell, giving substance to Ambedkar's prescient remark in 1950 that the Indian soil was essentially undemocratic.
Even so, the Karnataka voter will most likely use today's election to punish the BJP more than any other party. The first of its two elementary sins, the propagation of corruption, was common to all parties. But the BJP, under Chief Minister B. S. Yeddyurappa, went about it with a blatancy that was unprecedented. It used illegal money from Bellary's belly to buy the legislative majority it needed, then let the mining mafia make a mockery of all the laws of the land, then gave cabinet positions to thugs, rapists and run-of-the-mill looters. It was an Empire of Evil and Yeddyurappa learned nothing even after going to jail. That he still wants to rule Karnataka is a commentary on what politics has become.
The second sin, with more ominous implications, was the communalisation of public life in the state, especially in coastal Karnataka. Hindutva hooligans attacked people in pubs and homestays in the Mangalore area and even waylaid college boys and girls who talked to friends belonging to communities other than theirs. These incidents of fascist violence saw the state machinery either staying away or tacitly supporting them. Today key areas are communally divided.
Those who sow the wind reap the whirlwind. The Social Democratic Party of India, the political arm of the Islamist organisation, the Popular Front of India, has fielded 24 candidates in Dakshina Kannada which has the largest number of Muslim voters in the state after Bidar. The Kerala police recently raided what it said was an arms training camp of the Popular Front. Several young men were taken into custody and Karnataka police went there to do its own investigation. The coastal area now faces confrontationist politics. Whoever wins, democracy will lose.
Ironically, democracy will lose also if the Congress Party, as is expected, forms the next government. Firstly, the Congress will interpret its victory as the people's endorsement of its virtues. That would be nonsense because the Congress is as virtueless as the BJP. Secondly, the Congress may not have a leader with Yeddyurappa's genius for pillage, but it is by no means lacking in talent. Some of its proven exploiters who have criminal cases pending are among today's vote-seekers. This means that in this election people will escape from the depradations of the Renukacharyas and the Krishniah Settys and the Easwarappas only to succumb to the depradations of the C.M.Ibrahims and the D.K.Shivakumars and the Roshan Baigs.
The Congress can still avoid self-destruction, but only by recognising (a) that leaders with an image of corruption need to be kept out of the Government and (b) that both the chief ministerial hopefuls, G. Parameshwara and Siddaramaiah, compromised themselves by sponsoring corrupt cronies as candidates. This was a selfish move to boost their competitive edge post-election. They were considered worthy leaders until their self-goals exposed them as unreliable. That leaves the Congress with only one leader with his credibility intact. If Mallikarjun Kharge is picked to lead the Government and if he keeps the tainted ones out of the cabinet, the Congress may yet get a chance to rebuild itself. But to move the veteran back from Delhi would mean a whole lot of infighting and group politicking the Congress is known for. So, at the end of it all, the crooks may have their day since they have the money and the knowhow. And the culture of politics is in their favour. For now.