The Karnataka Moment and the Search for a ‘Bonapartist’ Figure – Looking at 2019

There are enough reasons for for the upbeat and celebratory mood in the anti-BJP-RSS camp following the resignation of BS Yeddyurappa even before the floor test. After all, for once, the game plan of the Modi-Shah duo fell flat, thanks in no small measure, to the Supreme Court’s intervention in directing that the floor test be done by 19 May, knocking down the (RSS) Governor’s initial provision of 15 days to the government to prove its majority. In a manner of speaking, we escaped just by the skin of our teeth.

Image: Indian Express

Both the parties concerned – the Congress and the Janata Dal (S) – were on tenterhooks throughout and the surreal accounts of the high drama of the past three days read like they could be about the nether worlds of crime and mafias. Offers to buy off MLAs with money ranging from Rs 5 crores and a ministry to Rs 100 crores have openly been alleged but these were the relatively minor matters. Congress and JD (S) MLAs were not allowed to leave Bengaluru as their chartered flights were ‘denied permission’. [An MLA, in fact told the Times of India, in the same report linked here that by manipulating resources, the BJP had ‘caged us’ in the state]. Their security cover was withdrawn. The management of the resort in Kochi (another state, not even ruled by the BJP) they had booked into by the Central leadership, actually backed out stating that they were under tremendous pressure. Then began the trip by road to Hyderabad, where eventually, it was the Telengana police that ensured their safety. Stories of individual MLAs, either being offered with withdrawal of pending cases or being threatened with harassment with new ones have also been doing the rounds. And for those who have been following what has been happening to the AAP MLAs in Delhi, nothing of this should be unbelievable.

The long and short of the matter is that we are faced with a gang of desperadoes who will stop at nothing when it comes to seizing power. That they did not succeed this time should not lull us into believing that they will now fall in line and play the game according to its rules. In a remarkably measured and dignified press conference, Rahul Gandhi underlined what needs to be understood as the foremost challenge today: no institution, starting with the Indian Constitution, is secure under this dispensation. RSS marauders are out to get and destroy each and every institution that has been painstakingly built over the years (despite all their limitations, it goes without saying). It is, of course, difficult to be as sanguine as Gandhi though when it comes to his assertion that the Karnataka developments have proved that the ‘will of the people’ is what matters in India. The fact of the matter is that it has never mattered. Not under Congress rule over decades and not under other more malignant dispensations like the present one. And with the JD (S) leader Kumaraswamy having once gone into an alliance with the BJP, one finds it very difficult to place all one’s trust in him and his ilk. His father, H. D. Deve Gowda, of course, has had a very different track record and one hopes that his presence and Kumaraswamy’s own experiences with the BJP and the Modi-Shah duo will prevent him from doing another Nitish Kumar in the near future.

The real problem here is that we are faced with a desperate army of adventurers who have no stake at all in the entity called India. This army is the RSS – and with a section of it in government, it will stop at nothing in its quest for absolute power. That said, however, it needs to be recognized that the Modi-Shah duo was actually building on – or at least banking on – very real faultlines in Karnataka politics, both in terms of the caste community equations (the Lingayats versus Vokkaligas for instance) and the party equations (e.g. the antipathies between the JD(S) and the Congress). It also needs to be recognized that they have a game plan.

In contrast, on our side, we have a series of ramshackle parties none of which are sure of their own political commitments or that of their elected representatives. None of them knows when parts of their flock will begin to desert them. This becomes critically important in the context of the looming war (not battle, for it will not be fought only in the battle at the hustings) of 2019.

But the Karnataka moment is important nevertheless, for it could become the BJP’s Waterloo, provided we do not get carried away by the immediate but superficial victory. For above all, the Karnataka moment revealed that the Modi magic was wearing thin and, in some sense, popular pressure was being recognized by the parties in question themselves. Once again, perhaps the presence of a personality like Deve Gowda might have played a role in this recognition. After all, in an interview to the Times of India, he repeatedly underlined that this moment was nothing short of penance and/or redemption for his son Kumaraswamy who had earlier been tainted by the deal with the BJP but who now stands cleansed.

But for this moment to realize its potential the new government has to perform and bickerings between the two big parties have to be firmly pushed aside. How on earth can anybody ensure that?  Given our political culture of self-aggrandizement, there does not seem to be any way out.

However, there is one way of at least marginalizing such tendencies, and that is by starting to build a larger coalition of forces and work towards something like a common minimum programme. What does a larger coalition of social forces mean? Very simply, it means a coalition of forces that may not have any significance in terms of the electoral calculus but where social movements and smaller political groups can be drawn into the fold on the basis of a political understanding. This could be somewhat along the lines of UPA I, where the National Advisory Council became such a platform and played a significant role in spearheading major legislations. What provided the first UPA government its wider social acceptance was its conscious effort to widen its social base. This was what became the thorn in the side of the neoliberals and the corporate sector, who saw in it the main reason for the UPAs ‘policy paralysis’ – a euphemism for not allowing unbridled corporate loot.

Politically speaking, the Karnataka moment can realize its potential by galvanizing a process of opposition unity. The new chief minister, H. D. Kumaraswamy, for his swearing-in ceremony has invited the whole opposition and intends to make this into an occasion where the bugle for the war of 2019 will be sounded.

However, the crucial question that remains is this: who will be that figure – that Bonapartist figure – on whom warring groups can repose their trust, someone who is not controversial in any obvious sort of way? Given that our Opposition is full of mutually incompatible parties/ groups – the Trinamul Congress and the Left on the one hand, the Left and the Congress, on the other, not to speak of those between AAP and the Congress, it is unlikely that Rahul despite his reinvented self, can be that person. Nitish Kumar, despite his past unreliability, could have been one such character but thankfully he showed us in time that whatever he might do in the future, he cannot ever be that person.

In an interesting sort of way, the figure of Deve Gowda, despite his age, seems to have suddenly emerged out of this moment as one possible face we might need to keep in mind. As one young 23 year old trans-woman put it to the Indian  Express reporter, ‘it is time for Deve Gowda sir too…PM in 2019’. (She was among those who wanted a pre-poll alliance too, between the JD (S) and the Congress, by the way). Others figures too might emerge in the days or months to come but we do not have much time really and not many choices.
In the end, it will all depend on how much political sagacity the main party of the Opposition, the Congress can display in the coming year and beyond.

[What Marx referred to as ‘Bonapartism’  and Gramsci in a somewhat similar sense called ‘Caesarism’ can be broadly put in Gramsci’s own words: ‘(But) Caesarism – although it always expresses the particular solution in which a great personality is entrusted with the task of “arbitration” over a historico-political situation characterised by an equilibrium of forces heading towards catastrophe – does not in all cases have the same historical significance. There can be both progressive and reactionary forms of Caesarism; the exact significance of each form can, in the last analysis, be reconstructed only through concrete history, and not by means of any sociological rule of thumb. Caesarism is progressive when its intervention helps the progressive force to triumph, albeit with its victory tempered by certain compromises and limitations. It is reactionary when its intervention helps the reactionary force to triumph…’]




Related Articles