Understanding the Currency of Courage, Discipline, and Love in Contemporary Indian Politics: Lessons from Karnataka

 karnataka assembly election

The result of the 2023 Karnataka assembly elections has surprised those who, directly or indirectly, had already read its obituary. Congress has secured 136 seats out of 224, and the BJP has managed to retain only 64.  However, contrary to the observation of most commentators, Congress was successful not merely because of its local focus. In this article, I argue that at least three factors solidified Congress’s campaign against the currently dominant Bharatiya Janata Party. Therefore, there are some lessons to be learnt from its political campaign.

The first factor is the politics of courage. In an atmosphere of political gloom where an alternative to the aggressive posturing of the BJP seemed distant, the disposition of courage by Congress leadership in the Karnataka elections refreshed the practice of politics. Compassion and reason were the much-needed antidotes to rescue politics from authoritarian hyperbole. Courage as a political practice, thus, infused politics with almost a redemptive heroic quality to confront cruelty and fear in the service of humanity. It is no secret that, to some extent, the BJP had successfully exhausted Congress’s energies by dragging its leaders into legal and extra-legal political battles. At a time when Congress did not have sufficient support and was being bullied by all means, its leadership has shown exemplary leadership qualities by practising unflinching defiance of fear and intimidation and demonstrating the much-needed courage and energy to amass popular support. Fortunately, it did not go unnoticed by the electorate. One can argue that the momentum of the mass-contact Bharat Jodo Yatra consolidated the party’s presence in Karnataka too. Its people-oriented campaign did not resort to vague promises but categorically emphasised the significance of peace, harmony, and brotherhood. It seems to have clicked with the electorate in Karnataka and hence made a case for a renewed political responsibility based on conscientious citizenship.

The second factor is the disciplined, clear, and consistent election campaign and political messaging run by the Congress party. Its campaign focused on relatable notions of civic virtue and liberal ideals such as rights and human dignity. Thus, puncturing the juggernaut of discursive violence of a communal narrative that is self-sustaining and self-serving. From grassroots workers to its top leadership, the party exhibited commendable discipline and astute engagement with popular issues. During this campaign, Congress did not fall prey to the BJP’s trap of communal rhetoric and carefully manoeuvred a few instances where it was cornered in the name of religion and community. The people-oriented campaign raised issues like inflation and unemployment and, unlike BJP, did not invoke abstract fears and inconsequential sectarianism. The clarity and consistency of political messaging provided a shot in the arm for Congress’s campaign. The electorate responded to the political messaging of the Congress party and realised the dangers of zero-sum game politics. The form of politics has triumphed over the force of politics. Reason and dialogue emerge as significant medium to restore political hope.

The last but the most potent was the politics of love, inclusion, and humanity. Toleration and civility were the central pillars of the Congress campaign. The ideological thrust of such ideas creates meaningful coordination between various aspects of public and private life, thus offering a radical configuration of political engagement. It emerged as a formula that redefines obscure junctures where commonalities overtake differences. As the famous French Philosopher Alain Badiou has observed in his work In Praise of Love that love is an existential project and, therefore, a constant unravelling quest for truth. Badiou’s analysis proposes that the moment or point of engagement is a moment of encounter. This encounter transforms the relationship between two parties by challenging them “to see the world from the point of view of two rather than one.” Badiou understands it as love’s most concrete transfiguration. Thus, the politics of love is a magnificent quest to explore and celebrate differences and dilutes our obsession with ourselves.

As they say, with great power comes great responsibility. Congress faces a challenging task that ranges from diffusing any party infightings, posing as a unified organisation and meeting the expectations of the state’s people, keeping in mind the impact their governance model can have on potentially reviving their fortune in the upcoming 2024 Lok Sabha elections. The Karnataka results must not be seen as momentary but as the symptom of a legitimacy deficit of the BJP government and its policies.

Javed Iqbal Wani, Senior Assistant Professor,School of Law, Governance and Citizenship, Ambedkar University Delhi, New Delhi

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