Banking on parivar to win in Karnataka - Hindustan Times
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Banking on parivar to win in Karnataka

Apr 10, 2024 10:10 PM IST

Family first has been the motto of all parties, including the BJP, as lists of candidates for the southern state are out

At a time when there is supposed to be a national debate on “parivarvaad”, Karnataka’s political parties have been unanimous in putting family first. It is not just the usual suspects of the Janata Dal (Secular) or the Congress that have followed this path, but also the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Karnataka’s politicians have already used the run-up to the 2024 general elections to prove that the family remains the dominant force of Indian politics and cannot be brushed aside even by a ruling party that has led the rhetoric against family rule.

Bengaluru, Mar 29 (ANI): Karnataka Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) President Vijayendra Yediyurappa along with Janata Dal (Secular) chief HD Deve Gowda, former state CMs B. S. Yediyurappa, HD Kumaraswamy, BS Bommai, BJP Karnataka incharge Radha Mohan Das hold hands at the Coordination Committee Meeting organised by BJP and JD(S) leaders ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, in Bengaluru on Friday. (ANI Photo)(hd kumaraswamy-X) PREMIUM
Bengaluru, Mar 29 (ANI): Karnataka Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) President Vijayendra Yediyurappa along with Janata Dal (Secular) chief HD Deve Gowda, former state CMs B. S. Yediyurappa, HD Kumaraswamy, BS Bommai, BJP Karnataka incharge Radha Mohan Das hold hands at the Coordination Committee Meeting organised by BJP and JD(S) leaders ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, in Bengaluru on Friday. (ANI Photo)(hd kumaraswamy-X)

The immediate compulsions to return to the family differ across political parties. The BJP had used the 2023 assembly elections to project its cadre and supporters of hardline Hindutva. The massive loss in that election has resulted in the pendulum swinging to the other extreme. The party chose to make BS Yediyurappa’s son the state party chief, thereby endorsing not just the former chief minister (CM) but his family as well. This has led one of the senior BJP leaders in the state, KS Eshwarappa, to announce he will stand against Yediyurappa’s other son who is contesting the Lok Sabha elections. He is projecting his fight as one against the dominance of a single-family in the BJP, though his actions have been prompted by the failure of his son to get a BJP ticket.

The Congress’s reiteration of its commitment to family rule was prompted by its failure to get its ministers to be candidates in the Lok Sabha polls. The party took the option of giving tickets to the sons and daughters of ministers, with a clear statement that the continuation of ministership would depend on their performance in the Lok Sabha polls. The only exception to the rule was a member of the family of the former Union minister and current state minister, KH Muniyappa, who was denied a ticket due to a major grassroots rebellion.

The party most associated with family politics in Karnataka — the JD(S) — has gone deeper into that hole. With the party moving closer to extinction in the last assembly elections, it has developed a survival strategy that is even more dependent on family. It has converted its new alliance with the BJP into one between HD Deve Gowda’s family and the ruling party in Delhi. It has settled for just three seats in the alliance, but two of the three seats have been given to Deve Gowda’s son and grandson. The Deve Gowda family could not claim the third seat as it was a reserved constituency, but the former prime minister’s son-in-law has been given a BJP ticket.

The inability, or unwillingness, of political parties in Karnataka to shrug off the family yolk is a commentary on the nature of grassroots politics in the state. When the sociologist MN Srinivas was studying villages in Karnataka more than half a century ago, he came up with the concept of vote banks to capture the phenomenon of individuals representing larger groups of voters in negotiations with political parties. These vote banks required local political leaders they could hold responsible rather than a distant state or national leadership. To reduce the chances of individuals taking their votes and disappearing, they held the entire family responsible.

In the first-past-the-post electoral system, the less influential families had a lower chance of winning and fell by the political wayside. Over time, there was space for only one ruling family and another family that was its political alternative. While political scientists have a law that is supposed to prompt democracies towards a two-party system, in India, local politics has gravitated towards a two-family system in individual constituencies.

For this two-family system to translate into a two-party system, the families should stay loyal to the parties they have traditionally belonged to. But the dynamics of everyday politics ensure that this does not happen. With families having to directly take care of the needs of voters, there is a desperate need to stay close to power. Elected representatives from Opposition parties are thus tempted to defect to the ruling party. If they succeed, the alternative families have to move out of that party to remain effective alternatives.

As other families try to dislodge one or the other of the two families at the top, they look to set up their own private patronage networks that will enable them to woo voters. In raising the resources needed for this exercise, they are often willing to cross the boundaries of legality. They then see power as no more than a time to replenish their resources.

Within this general system, the three parties in Karnataka have taken quite different routes to the 2024 elections. The BJP’s campaign is about the inevitability of the Prime Minister’s return to power with a larger majority, thereby seeking to attract political families that need to stay close to power. They go a step further to argue that once they get in the central government it would only be a matter of time before they cause defections to bring down the Congress government in the state. The response of the Congress has been to go completely local. The state ministers are expected to take care of their family backyards. In BJP strongholds, the Congress has put up previously unknown candidates on the assumption that there would be no negative sentiment against them, and they can focus on gaining the support of those against the ruling local family. The JD(S), which is in an existential crisis, has concentrated on re-establishing the power of its ruling family.

As families assert themselves in Karnataka politics, they are getting unexpected support from those attacking “parivarvaad”. The more Rahul Gandhi is attacked for the mistakes of his father, grandmother, and, with a little tweaking of history, his great-grandfather, the idea that it is the family rather than the party that can be held responsible in Indian politics gets even more deeply entrenched.

Narendar Pani is JRD Tata Chair visiting professor, National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bengaluru. The views expressed are personal

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