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Who says corruption is punished in elections? And why is the BJP committing suicide?


ARINDAM CHAUDHURI | New Delhi, May 9, 2013 17:04
Tags : Arindam Chaudhuri | BJP | BS Yeddyurappa | Karnataka elections | Virbhadra Singh | Kerala elections |

Normally, it is difficult for me to be cynical like media pundits generally are. But after looking at election results in so many states since 2010, the one sad conclusion that I can draw is that the corruption card is being overstated and over-hyped. it appears as if allies and perception management play a bigger role in deciding elections than actual facts related to corruption and plunder.

This should be the biggest lesson that the top BJP leaders must draw from the elections. Compare two states and two parties and see what has actually happened. In Karnataka, the Lokayukta, Justice Santosh Hegde and his office accused the BJP government led by the then Chief Minister B. S. Yeddyurappa of corruption. These charges were related primarily to mining operations in Bellary. Subsequently, Yeddyurappa was forced to step down. At that time, my colleagues told me that senior BJP leaders based in Delhi had a bigger role to play in the ouster of Yeddyurappa than opposition parties! In a significant development, the Karnataka High Court actually absolved Yeddyurappa of some charges slapped against him. Despite this, Yeddyurappa was treated badly by the top leadership of the BJP and he quit the party a bitter and frustrated man to form his own party. Yeddyurappa vowed to ensure that the BJP is given a humiliating defeat in the Karnataka assembly elections. He has ensured that and the BJP has indeed lost very badly. This despite BJP leaders screaming loudly that they have purged the party of corrupt elements. Now look at what happened in Himachal Pradesh last year. Despite serious charges of corruption against him, the Congress made Virbhadra Singh the de facto candidate for the post of Chief Minister. There were loud whispers that this cynical move would prove costly for the Congress party since Indian voters were sick and tired of large scale corruption exemplified by the Commonwealth and 2G scams. What was the actual result? The ‘tainted’ Virbhadra Singh led his Congress party to a very comfortable victory and became Chief Minister!

So what does a surface analysis of the election results of the two states reveal? The BJP loses Karnataka very badly despite showing the door to a Chief Minister who faced charges of corruption. And the Congress wins Himachal Pradesh with a handsome margin despite giving charge to a former Chief Minister who faced serious charges of corruption! Of course, this is a surface analysis and many other factors must have played a role in deciding the elections in Himachal and Karnataka. But you cannot escape the sad conclusion that corruption is overrated as an election issue. And that really is the sad news for India.

My colleagues give me a few more examples to show how this is turning out to be true in this country. In Kerala, the Left Front government faced numerous charges of corruption and Kerala had a divided house prior to the assembly elections. Kerala has always been a case where the Left Front and the Congress-led front have alternately held power. In one election, if the Left Front sweeps the elections, then in the next one, it is the Congress-led front that sweeps the elections. But what actually happened during the Kerala elections? Despite political pundits insisting that Kerala voters were fed up with the corruption of the Left Front government, the Congress front actually won just one seat more than the Left Front. This was perhaps the narrowest victory in the history of assembly elections in independent India. Something similar happened in Uttarakhand. Here again, the BJP government faced serious charges of corruption. In a desperate move, the party reinstated the highly respected Major General B. C. Khanduri as the Chief Minister. Yet, political pundits insisted that the voter was so angry with the corruption of the BJP government that it would hand a sweeping victory to the Congress despite the clean image of General Khanduri. When election results were announced, it was discovered that the Congress victory at the end of the day was as narrow as its victory in Kerala. The clinching evidence for this hypothesis of mine – that corruption is being overrated as a poll plank by politicians – comes from Punjab. The Akali Dal-BJP government ruling Punjab faced serious charges of corruption. Most political pundits and opinion polls gave a handsome victory to the Congress. Captain Amarinder Singh, who led the Congress campaign in Punjab, was so confident of victory that there was talk of allocation of portfolios of ministers even before voting took place in the state. And what actually happened? The ‘tainted’ alliance of the Akali Dal and the BJP that faced serious charges of corruption won a historic mandate and humiliated the Congress and Captain Amarinder Singh!

That is the sad reality in India. We may talk in television studios and in seminars about corruption and how voters punish the corrupt. What actually happens at the ground level is completely different. Unfortunately, our system has become so rotten that the Indian voter really doesn’t have much of a choice. Look at Maharashtra. The Congress-NCP alliance has been leading one of the worst governments of the country when it comes to corruption and governance. From being one of the most developed, most industrialized and most progressive states of the country, Maharashtra under the Congress- NCP is rapidly becoming a basket-case with shameful number of farmer suicides year after year. And yet, the alliance keeps winning elections. Look also at Tamil Nadu. Sure, the voter punished the DMK government because of corruption. But Jayalalitha, who won a huge victory, faces equally serious corruption charges. Look also at Uttar Pradesh. The heir apparent Rahul Gandhi led an aggressive campaign that told voters of Uttar Pradesh that the two regional parties in the form of Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party had plundered the state. Rahul wanted the UP voter to finally punish the corrupt the regional parties and give a mandate to the Congress. The actual result? The Samajwadi Party, led by Mulayam Singh Yadav who faces serious charges of corruption, won a decisive victory in the assembly elections.

Now look at all the election results and tell me honestly if voters actually punish the corrupt. As I mentioned earlier, the Indian voter really has no choice and replaces one corrupt party or politician with another corrupt party or politician when they are really angry. Otherwise, they vote like the voter did in Punjab and retain the incumbent government despite widespread charges of corruption.

But that is just one part of what I am trying to suggest after the results of the Karnataka elections; the other part relates to the suicidal behaviour of the BJP. The UPA government has become so unpopular and the average Indian citizen so angry with the Congress and its unending scams and arrogance that the next Lok Sabha elections should be a cakewalk for a BJP-led alliance. But it doesn’t look like that is going to happen. And that is because the BJP is a bitterly divided house. It is now clear that some old Delhi-based leaders of the BJP are hell-bent on not allowing space to popular regional leaders. The manner in which the top brass of the party is handling the Narendra Modi issue gives clear indications of that. Look at the past. The BJP ensured the exit of former UP Chief Minister Kalyan Singh who was a formidable grassroots leader. The BJP ensured the exit of former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Uma Bharati who was a formidable grassroots leader. The BJP ensured the exit of former Jharkhand Chief Minister Babulal Marandi who was a formidable grassroots leader. The BJP ensured the exit of former Karnataka Chief Mjnister Yeddyurappa who was a formidable grassroots leader. And the BJP almost ensured the exit of two more former chief ministers Vasundhara Raje Scindia of Rajasthan and General Khanduri of Uttarakhand. At this rate, it won’t be surprising if the BJP commits suicide in 2014.

There is still time for the top leadership of the BJP to wake up and smell the coffee. But will they?

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017