Strange are the ways of our politics and of the tendency of electronic channels to jump the gun in crunch situations.
For the first few hours after the trends/results of the Karnataka assembly elections started pouring in, there was virtual unanimity that the BJP, being the single largest party would form the government in Bengaluru. The Congress stood decimated, said political pundits.
There were massive celebrations in BJP circles and a time was set for a victory celebration in Delhi with Prime Minister Narendra Modi to chair the big show.
Slowly, however, the fact of behind-the-scene parleys between the Congress and the Janata Dal-Secular trickled out and it emerged that the Congress had offered chief ministership to JD-S leader H D Kumaraswamy in a coalition arrangement which he had gladly accepted.
Let the people’s mandate be damned, the power brokers seemed to say. What matters is power, they averred.
All eyes are now on Governor Vajubhai Vala, who may have no option but to give in to the Congress-JD (S) combine.
Significantly, in Goa and then in Manipur, it was the Congress that had higher numbers in Assembly elections but it was the BJP that formed governments with the support of smaller parties and independents. This is a convenient example for the Congress to cite whereby the subversion of the electoral mandate in Karnataka can be explained away.
But it is undeniable that it was no mean task for the BJP to gain ground over the Congress and that all through the campaign the BJP was soft on the JD-S on the stipulation that the Kumaraswamy-led party would conform to the tacit understanding between them.
The dramatic courtesy call by Modi on Kumaraswamy’s father and former prime minister Deve Gowda through which he believed he had won him over proved to be a clever ruse by the redoubtable Gowda. Blood is thicker than water and when Kumaraswamy met him after the poll results, the octogenarian could not but give in to the prospect of his son being chief minister again.
Be that as it may, the BJP performance in the polls cannot be brushed aside as inconsequential. It was the result of Modi’s charismatic personality and powerful oratory combined with the superior organisational skills of party president Amit Shah.
From a position where the Congress seemed to be walking away with the mantle as early opinion polls before Modi’s rallies showed, there was a sea change when Modi unleashed his masterly blitzkrieg.
By contrast, for the Congress, its mascot Rahul Gandhi was a disaster as much as on many occasions earlier.
Chief Minister Siddaramaiah used every stratagem, including identity politics through a separate flag for Karnataka, an attempt to paint the non-Kanadigas as intrusive outsiders, of announcing the powerful Lingayat caste as a religion separate from Hinduism, among others. But apparently, his maladministration and the corruption under his regime were too much for him to explain.
There was anti-incumbency against the state government, but the Siddaramaiah government was not ready to combat it or even recognise it because it was cocooned in a sense of arrogance and complacency.
For the Congress, staying in power in Karnataka even as a junior partner in a coalition would be a major boost in its efforts to convince other parties to stay on its side in the pre-Lok Sabha political battles. But convincing them to acquiesce in Rahul Gandhi as the leader of the joint opposition would be quite another matter.
With his poor performance at the head of the Congress party and his lack of pulling power as compared to Modi, there would be few takers for him.
The BJP also would have to reorient its strategy to win new friends and to retain old friends in the run-up to the general elections. Had the BJP wrested power, 2019 would perhaps have seemed like a cake-walk. But now the opposition would pose a challenge, emboldened as they would be.
That would liven up the Lok Sabha campaign and make it a do-or-die battle.