Karnataka chose compassion and genuine connection over megalomania

Tushar Gandhi

May 16, 2023

“An egotistical utterance should always be regarded as false.”

  • MK Gandhi, Bapu Ke Ashirvad, July 26, 1945

This is precisely how the Karnataka voter responded to the high-decibel, repulsively lavish but unashamedly false campaign mounted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the abusive one by Union Home Minister Amit Shah. They were both very transparently dishonest. The resounding defeat of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Karnataka despite such a loud and costly campaign is due to many factors but one of the main reasons is that the conduct of its star campaigners repulsed the electorate.

Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra proved to be a gamechanger, creating a groundswell for him which transferred to the Congress. His positive campaign and ethical, issue-based attacks on the BJP resonated with the electorate. It reflected in the Congress’ landslide victory and substantial vote share. The party, after a long time, connected with the poor and the marginalised – which used to be the Congress’ strength. They had lost this ability over the past couple of decades, essentially post-liberalisation. Rahul’s Bharat Jodo Yatra reestablished the connection. The nation saw how honest and filled with love and compassion Rahul’s connect with the poor and marginalised was as compared to the orchestrated, insincere photo opportunities the prime minister indulged in. Honesty won over deceit.

The contribution of Priyanka Gandhi in the campaign cannot be diminished either; her earnest speeches resonated with the voters. The siblings successfully won hearts and votes.

A return to sound logic

After a long time, the Congress rediscovered its strength with a strong state leadership given charge of the elections. Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge, also from Karnataka, gave a free hand to state party president DK Shivakumar and former chief minister Siddaramaiah. While both were chief ministerial aspirants, Kharge managed to ensure a united campaign.

The Congress has weakened when strong satraps are sabotaged and the ‘Delhi Durbar’ holds sway over party affairs. People who could not ensure a win for themselves used to be given the authority to strategise and run elections, which ensured that the Congress lost even in its strongholds. Repeatedly.

After the Karnataka results, I hope that the Congress nurtures and strengthens local leadership and relies on it for electoral success in other states. It must definitely act in Maharashtra to strengthen a couple of capable, strong leaders and tell them clearly that they have to deliver results if they want to relish the fruits of success.

In its own way, in the Karnataka election, civil society initiatives working in the background also contributed to the BJP’s defeat. One such is the Bharat Jodo Abhiyan, which worked hard in many of the marginal seats over the past two months to convince the electorate to vote against the BJP. For the first time, these groups stood without reservations with the Congress. Such an initiative by civil society was last seen after the Emergency when it took to the streets to ensure the Congress’ defeat. And what a thrashing the party received!

This time, civil society, whom Modi derisively calls “andolanjeevi”, contributed appreciably to the Congresses victory – as was the need of the hour.

PM’s ego did the BJP in

There will be detailed analyses of voting trends to establish what contributed to the Congresses massive victory in the face of the BJP’s muscle and money power and the fact that two of its most ‘powerful’ leaders campaigned so intensively. It can now be said that the campaign by the prime minister and home minister was directly responsible for the BJP’s rout.

Modi, from his days as chief minister of Gujarat, has displayed a very prominent ego. After he became prime minister, his ego became even more overbearing. Now, in his second term, it has turned into megalomania. He does not bother to hide it. His second term can be described as a “ME AND ONLY I” era.

Look at his hurried inaugurations of half-complete projects, flagging off even local trains and turning them into “I! I! Only I!” events. The only thing he hasn’t inaugurated so far is a public latrine and that may happen soon.

His choreographed roadshows feature only him. His photo ops, where he brusquely shoos off anyone having the audacity to enter the frames, are expertly set up. The shower of flower petals, the obscene amount of exchequer money wasted on building up the ‘leader’ image of a megalomaniac… If we are to believe that the flowers showered on him were spontaneous, the Special Protection Group should face parliamentary censure because it is a clear security breach. How did they ensure that the people spontaneously showered petals of one variety of flower only? How did they ensure that someone would not throw a stone or something more lethal, taking advantage of such a ‘spontaneous’ opportunity? Isn’t it the SPG’s duty to protect the prime minster from harm? This leads me to believe that these events were orchestrated and choreographed, vetted by the SPG.

While Modi banged on about “I work!”, “They abuse me!”, “I am like Shiva”, “I! I! I!”, Rahul and Priyanka talked about issues relevant to the people, never complaining about the constant slander and abuse they and their family face.

Modi, from his CM days, has played the victim card and it has paid him handsome dividends. When Sonia Gandhi called him a “maut ka saudagar” after the 2002 riots in Gujarat, he played the victim card and won the next election there. When Mani Shankar Aiyar called him a “chaiwala”, he played the victim card again. When Aiyar called him “neech”, Modi again played the card. But he has played it once too often. The electorate in Karnataka saw through this charade.


The persecution of Rahul after the Bharat Jodo Yatra, his disqualification from the Lok Sabha and being thrown out of his house in such a hasty manner showed to the people who the real victim was. Rahul’s dignified silence won for him the people’s sympathy.

Meanwhile, Modi’s uncaring silence on vital issues also showed the people what a self-obsessed, uncaring person he is. Women wrestlers, who have won international laurels for India, have been protesting for justice for so long but the ‘Beti Bachao’ PM remains unmoved. Meanwhile, he makes a nationwide tamasha, wasting exchequer wealth on 100 episodes of his ‘Mann Ki Baat’ radio address.

Manipur burns but the modern-day Nero has said not a word against the carnage there or to sympathise with the victims. He is too busy having flower petals showered on him in Bengaluru.

Serious charges have been made by a senior leader, one his own government appointed as Governor of Jammu and Kashmir, about the handling of the tragedy at Pulwama where so many of our brave soldiers were killed.

The PM’s silence has begun to bother the nation. The nation wants to know the ‘Sachchi Baat’.

Lastly, the Karnataka verdict has proved that hate campaigns will not work always. The BJP for too long has depended on its divisiveness; Karnataka has shown that hate has a limited shelf life. Since his days in Gujarat, the PM has used hate as a weapon and it has won him handsome victories. It did not work this time. Shah tried to be even more venomous, but it backfired. Rahul administered an effective antidote, love, and the people lapped it up. In Karnataka, Rahul succeeded in opening a “mohabbat ki dukaan” in a “nafrat ka bazaar”.

I began this column with a quote of Bapu about the falseness of an egoist. The voter of Karnataka understood this.


Tushar Gandhi, great grandson of the Mahatma, is an activist, author and president of the Mahatma Gandhi Foundation. Reach him here: gandhitushar.a@gmail.com.