Catching up

Karnataka's electorate confirms that people are ahead of politicians, who must junk their old calculus

There is no uncertainty about the mandate in Karnataka. In a multi-cornered contest, and a seemingly fragmenting polity, in which a significant new party made a much-hyped debut in this election, the winner has been given a clear majority and the outgoing government was unambiguously punished. In its decisive sweep despite the constricted menu of options, the verdict doesn't seem to have turned on any single factor or issue, be it a leader, a caste, or a community. It seems to be made up, instead, of that wider set of variables that add up to what is called governance in this case, bad governance, or even the sheer lack of it, by a faction-ridden BJP squabbling with itself. In its clearheadedness and maturity, the Karnataka verdict doesn't just break through the clutter and instability that has described the state's politics since 2004. It may also be part of a heartening new pattern in India's politics.

The regionalisation of the political contest has been a conspicuous trend for more than two decades now, coming to the fore in the early 1990s after the formal collapse of the Congress-dominance system. In many states, especially in the country's north, this inaugurated a period of intense churning and fractured verdicts. That phase seems to be drawing to a close now. Voters, even in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, are increasingly giving clear and decisive mandates to rule. Another related trend has firmed up in the 2000s: the rote anti-incumbency that had become a predictable feature of state-level politics, also in the 1990s, is fading. There is a general decline of the "incumbency disadvantage" as more and more incumbent governments are being voted back to power when they are seen to have delivered. This is the context for the result in Karnataka.

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