It’s Sholay all over again
While driving down from Bengaluru to mysuru, you come across a patch of hillocks near ramanagar whose hillocks provided the backdrop for the all-time hit Bollywood movie, sholay. This was where villain gabbar singh, played by inimitable Amjad Khan, delivered that immortal dialogue, “Kitne aadmi the? (How many people were they?)” The dialogue is better remembered for its style of delivery than content.
As the voting day came closer, this dialogue found resonance in the region, as the congress, the BJP and Janata dal (secular) desperately tried to keep their flock together and motivate their cadre to outdo the others in the poll campaign.
in the core mysuru region, there are 29 assembly segments which are known to be strongholds of either the congress or the Jd(s). Former Pm Hd deve gowda belongs to the region and is known to have considerable clout among Vokkaligas of the area. His son and former cm Hd Kumaraswamy was seen as a potential kingmaker in case of a hung verdict – provided he himself retained his influence among voters.
Travelling across the region, it was quite evident that the congress and the Jd(s) were the dominant political forces. For historical reasons, the congress was still a party that can claim to have a significant following across caste groups. For older generations, indira gandhi is still an unforgettable icon and debt to whom is weighing heavily in their mind. And siddaramaiah despite his failing as cm was not a pushover.
unlike his predecessors like sm Krishna, siddaramaiah is a full-time politician deeply engrossed into his vocation in his every action round the clock. And since the ascendancy of the BJP, he understood the necessities of cementing his social base by playing inherent contradictions in the society. That was why he decided to declare the lingayats as distinct religion other than Hindu.
since Karnataka’s social economy revolves around thousands of maths (religious seats) that command overweening influence on different castes, siddaramaiah desperately tried to win over maths and caste groups in order to consolidate his political support base and subsume Hindutva. in sociological terms, he attempted to subsume “larger traditions by little traditions” in the state. His move to forge a coalition of ‘Ahinda’ (minorities, obcs, and dalits) could be a sound political strategy that is reminiscent of KHAM in gujarat or majgar in uttar Pradesh.
compared to the congress, the BJP in the region was a much less significant force given its internal factional feuds. in 2014 and even before, Bs Yeddyurappa, the party’s tallest leader, was marginalised thanks to internal bickering led by factions owing allegiance to lk Advani, sushma swaraj, and Ananth Kumar. Yeddyurappa floated his own party and reduced the BJP to a completely marginal force.
of course, the BJP’S strategists were sharp enough to appreciate the potential of Yeddyurappa and roped
him in as the chief ministerial candidate for the upcoming election. in posters all across the state, he is given more than adequate prominence along with narendra modi and Amit shah to emphasise his numero uno position within the party’s state unit. given his background as a formidable leader of farmers and his influence on the powerful lingayats, the BJP was able to put up a stiff resistance to the congress in nearly a third of the 29 constituencies in the region.
But the party that seemed to be gripped by the ‘kitne aadmi the’ syndrome was essentially the Jd(s). This region has been regarded as the pocket borough of gowda’s family. Kumaraswamy claims that legacy, and has been heavily banking on the support of this region to enable him to assume the role of a kingmaker. Significantly, Kumaraswamy was reconciled to the idea of playing the role of a leader who will hold the key to power. And to realise this political aspiration, he would be keen only to retain 30-40 seats that can enable him to see through his plan.
But there is a sting in the tail which is again borrowed from sholay in which the jailer played by Asrani asks his men, “Aadhe idhar jaao, aadhe udhar jaao, baki mere saath aao (half of you go on this side and half on the other side and the rest come with me)”, without realising that he is left with no one. That is the potential risk Kumaraswamy’s strategy may entail.