The beginning of the end of the seemingly invincible Modi regime? Is this how the future might view the Karnataka by-elections of November 2018?
After the BJP’s 4-to-1 drubbing in Karnataka, a state long seen as the BJP’s southern bastion, even contemporary pundits may be ready to see the party slide nationally, while political factions may accelerate a trend by deserting the BJP across India.
Held by the BJP in 2004, 2009 and 2014, the Ballari Lok Sabha seat was seen as the impregnable fort of mining baron B. Sriramulu, who for years has aided the BJP’s growth in Karnataka. This time Sriramulu failed to prevent the defeat in Ballari of his sister J. Shantha.
In the Shimoga Lok Sabha seat, also BJP-held since 2004, which the party’s Karnataka chief, B. S. Yeddyurappa, vacated in May upon entering the state assembly, his son Raghavendra won the by-election, giving the BJP its sole victory in this November round, but the margin was much smaller than his father’s in 2014.
If the Congress’s alliance with the Janata Dal (S) proved conquering in these by-elections, the Modi banners waved for the BJP in vain.
In the coming five weeks, five states will hold elections: Chhattisgarh, Mizoram, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Telangana. Results for all five will be known on 11 December. If these results do not contradict the message from the Karnataka by-polls, Indian politics will suddenly become very lively.
The response of Prime Minister Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah to these Karnataka results, and to what 11 December will show, will be watched with interest, while the response of extremist groups supporting the Modi regime will be watched with concern.
Activity on the ‘religious’ front is already frenetic, with names of cities in UP being dramatically ‘freed’ of un-Hindu taints not noticed for centuries, statues of Hindu gods being launched, airports being renamed after some of them, and deadlines being demanded for a grand temple to rise where a mosque stood for more than 450 years until its lawless destruction in December 1992.
It is not exactly an inspiring example to offer to Pakistan, where courageous politicians and journalists have demanded a firm defence of the Pakistani Supreme Court’s judgement acquitting Asiya Bibi, a native Christian, of blasphemy charges carrying the death sentence.
In India and elsewhere, ‘religious’ crusades against the alleged ‘pollution’ of a majority culture by a name, a piece of art or literature, or a judicial decision, have almost always been accompanied by hostility towards people of a different faith or culture. This hostility has often been embraced for its political rewards even when it damages the economy and normal life.
Will we witness other dramatic responses? Who knows? Individuals and organizations with power can do many wise or unwise things. Others can hope for the best and keep fingers crossed. Fortunately, it is the people of India who will have the last word. Sooner or later.