Why are the TV news anchors squirming like never before as B S Yeddyurappa is sworn in as Karnataka CM? Do you think these people do not know the long history of Congress governors acting in arbitrary manner? Do you think they do not know how Congress dictators/Prime Ministers would dismiss Opposition state governments en masse … sometimes up to nine state governments at a time?
Of course it is about partisanship. Some of it is about personal embarrassment. After all, many of India’s most well known anchors spent much time covering Karnataka, following Siddaramaiah around, declaring him a “folk hero.” Then, the folk hero lost by 36000 votes. Now these anchors want to discuss everything except their shocking incompetence in analyzing election outcomes. They also want to keep people from discussing how Rahul Gandhi failed again.
But there is one more factor. And I believe its the biggest one. It’s their anger and surprise at a new Modi-fied BJP that refuses to play dead. Let me explain.
The year was 1999. Atal Behari Vajpayee’s government collapsed because it was one vote short. One vote!
That was the old BJP, always getting blindsided, fooled or taken for a ride.
The BJP struck a deal with BSP in the 90s to form the government in Uttar Pradesh based on a rotational CM post. Of course, Mayawati would go first. And of course, when it was the BJP’s turn to have the CM post, the BSP refused support.
Same in Karnataka. In 2006, the BJP struck a deal with JDS to rule the state based on a rotational CM. Of course, Kumaraswamy would go first. And of course, when it was BJP’s turn to have the CM post, the JDS refused support. How could it possibly be otherwise?
In the Bihar elections of 2000, the Samata Party (precursor of JDU) won just 34 seats. The BJP won nearly twice as many, i.e., 67 seats. Guess who the BJP offered the CM post? Nitish Kumar! And while Nitish’s government didn’t last, he had become the face of NDA in Bihar, a mistake for which BJP continues to pay even to this day.
The BJP is, by any standard, an electoral behemoth. In the last seven elections, the party has always won at least 100 Lok Sabha seats. To see how big this is, just try to count how many parties in India have ever touched 50 Lok Sabha seats even once!
But the BJP always punched below its weight and often laughably so. I wouldn’t say the durbaris “liked” the old BJP … but they were at least capable of coming to terms with it. As long as the BJP, even after emerging victorious, was willing to fall to the ground and beg forgiveness for winning … and promise the nobles in the ecosystem that their high status would not be affected.
As long as the BJP with 182 Lok Sabha seats in 1999 was willing to grovel before allies, willing to give them all the key Cabinet positions. Even the ministries that were technically with the BJP were offered to people who could be best described as newcomers and/or outsiders. Stool pigeons of the Congress saw it as an acknowledgement of intellectual inferiority on part of the BJP. You will see folks like Ram Guha often write fondly and with much satisfaction about this.
In other words, the ecosystem could make some sort of peace with the BJP, as long as they were willing to prostrate before the elite and play dead. This is the sort of mentality with which an arrogant Amartya Sen declared after 2014 results that he would “allow” Modi to rule. At that point, they were still very much consumed by the belief that Modi would ask them for their “permission,” whatever that means.
The thing is that their “permission” meant absolutely nothing to Modi. Zero. Zilch. Nada.
In fact, Modi would positively revel in showing how little he cared for that class. And this is what they cannot digest.
The BJP has been an electoral behemoth for a long time. But in terms of institutions, the party had almost no influence. Arguably, the BJP’s institutional imprint is smaller than even a tiny party like the CPIM. Twice in the last 20 years, the CPIM fell short of the minimum electoral performance required to maintain the status of a ‘national party.’ Both times, the Election Commission rewrote the definition of a national party, tailored it to suit the CPIM’s requirements and hand delivered them to the CPIM’s headquarters at A K Gopalan Bhavan in Delhi.
This is what *real power* looks like. When the institutions proactively surrender before you. The CPIM barely needed to ask. The Election Commission fell at their feet proactively without a murmur.
Compare this to the BJP which was running circles around the Election Commission in 2007 begging to keep its recognition merely as a political party.
Do I even have to remind people of the time the Supreme Court of India humbly agreed to the Emergency, pointing out that Indira Gandhi’s dictatorial move was almost “maternal”?
This status of the BJP as an outcast endured right up to the moment of May 16, 2014. Let me remind you that Narendra Modi, even in the campaign summer of 2014, could not get permission to address so much as a rally in Varanasi city, in the heart of a seat that he was contesting himself. The place where Modi was allowed to address a rally was so far from the population that hardly anybody could make it there : it was his only thinly attended rally in Uttar Pradesh that year.
A day before voting, the EC raided Modi’s offices in Varanasi. A smug NDTV announced to its viewers that “campaign material was seized” from the election office.
Of course you can’t punish a party for having election material in its election office. It was about sending the BJP a message … reminding them of their “aukat.” Such was the complete, total and utter humiliation of the BJP, even days before they swept to power.
But tables have turned ever so slightly under the Modi regime. For the first time, at least a few decisions from India’s various “institutions” have gone in favor of the BJP. That is why you see the Congress agitating to have the EVMs canceled, the Chief Election Commissioner sacked and the Chief Justice of India impeached. The Raj Bhavans across state capitals have always been part of the servants quarters at 10 Janpath. They have always been used to show the BJP its place.
Suddenly, the Congress Party and the ecosystem sees a different face of Raj Bhavan. The people making the decisions have changed. And you can’t raid the BJP’s election office any more for the “crime” of possessing campaign material. That’s why they are so angry. Let them.