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August 2019 Edition of Power Politics is updated.          August 2019 Edition of Power Politics is updated.
Issue:June' 2019


What a low !

Mamtha Sharma in

BJP Preps To Form Government In Karnataka, The BJP which has been desperately trying to regain power in Karnataka, finally managed to oust the 14- month old ruling JDS-Congress combine, thanks to its political manoeuvering which resulted in 15 coalition law makers turning rebels. Predictably, the win boosted the party’s confidence as it opened the way for staking claim to forming the government.
Admittedly, political parties always endeavour to pull the rug from under rival governments run by the opposition and Karnataka is no exception to such attempts ,going by past records.

This time, however, the sordid drama coupled with the horse trading on display, showcased the new low to which politicians, as a whole, can stoop for power.

More importantly, the development also brought into sharp focus the role of constitutional bodies like the Supreme Court ,and for that matter, the state governor himself, not to mention the assembly Speaker.

Especially, as the apex court’s order on the resignation and disqualification of the 15 rebels concerned while seeming to curtail the right of political parties to issue a whip against its rebels, albeit temporarily, created confusion. This appeared to go against the provisions of the anti defection laws and allied rulings,allowing the affected parties to draw their own conclusions in the Karnataka crisis..

Critics also raised questions about the delay by the Speaker in deciding about the resignations of the rebels and the way the trust vote was allowed to stretch into the fourth day, even after the government had committed to holding it on a fixed date.

Speaker K.R. Ramesh Kumar chairs a Karnataka Assembly session at Vidhana Soudha in Bengaluru This is not all.The governor Vaijubhai Vala’s missives to the Speaker and the chief minister ,did not leave constitutional experts amused as they raised doubts about his direction on the need to expedite the confidence vote . More so, as these encroached upon the Speaker’s powers.
Inevitably, perhaps, the time has come to seek clarity on the constitutional provisions under the Tenth Schedule along side the powers that the Speaker enjoys. The need for this has become imperative following the confusion created by the different interpretations they were subjected to.

An opportunistic alliance

BJP state chief BS Yeddyurapp Here it is also necessary to revert to the reasons that caused the crisis in the state ,other than the desperate rush that the BJP under its leader, B S Yeddyurappa, showed to regain power.
The coalition government came to power after the BJP failed to muster enough strength to prove its majority in the 2018 assembly elections, having managed 104 of the 224 seats against a majority of 113 . The JDS and Congress ,which got 80 and 37 seats ,respectively,however ,moved fast to form a combine to run the government, pulling the rug from under BJP’S feet in the process.

This, incidentally, was not the first time that the two parties had come together to run the government, an experiment that was seen in 2004 as well, however shortlived. The JDS ,in fact, even dumped the Congress subsequently to align with the BJP to form the government but not before backtracking when it came to giving an opportunity to its partner to do so, as per the agreement they had stitched..

In 2018, however, in their desperation to keep the BJP out of power , the two parties came together again to form a coalition government. This was an alliance which did not get the tacit support of the local Congress leaders considering their long standing enmity with the JDS. Conversely, for the JDS run by former Prime Minister, Deve Gowda, this was an unexpected opportunity to grab power. Especially, as the Congress under Sonia Gandhi had assured the JDS patriarch that his son, Kumaraswamy, would continue to remain chief minister for the full term.

On paper, the agreement looked fine even if it took a lot to convince Congress leaders like Siddaramiah,as he had a grudge against the Gowdas for expelling him from the JDS in 2005.

On the face of it , the two parties managed to put up a joint front showing every sign of a bonhomie in public. The problem ,however, surfaced repeatedly ,particularly during the just concluded Lok Sabha elections in which the Congress contested 21 of the 28 seats from the state with the JDS fighting the balance.

The controversy over the resignations and their acceptance by the Speaker apart, the development also brought into the open the resort game which the BJP had perfected through its Operation Kamal earlier ,,to woo opposition law makers.

The Congress even surrendered important seats of Tumkuru to Deve Gowda and Hassan and Mandya to the JDS,leading to a major rift in the party and its workers. This was something it’s stalwarts had admitted to PowerPolitics in Mandya,Hassan and Tumkur during the Lok Sabha elections.

The net result was that Congress workers just did not provide the needed support to the JDS while campaigning . This proved telling for the JDS as Deve Gowda lost from Tumkuru and his grandson, Nikhil ,from Mandya. Only Prajwal,the second grandson, managed to win from Hassan. The loss came as a body blow to the Gowdas.

This heightened the bitterness between the alliance partners with scores of Congress leaders going public with their criticism of the JDS and how they were being sidelined. A stage came when the BJP also managed to convince a few of the Congressmen to pull out but the coalition managed to win them back by revamping its cabinet.

Nevertheless, the distrust between the two parties led to more MLAs expressing their dissatisfaction with the coalition ,though much of it was also directed towards the manner in which the former chief minister,Siddaramiah, was running the show.

The seriousness of the problem surfaced this month when first 11 coalition MLAs submitted their resignations to the Speaker,followed by two Independents who had been made ministers barely 20 days before. To make matters worse,veteran leaders like Ramalinga Reddy also resigned as MLA,causing a major dent in the Congress while shaking the coalition government. He did take back his resignation later, though.

The controversy over the resignations and their acceptance by the Speaker apart, the development also brought into the open the resort game which the BJP had perfected through its Operation Kamal earlier ,,to woo opposition law makers.

Witness, therefore ,the manner in which the 15 rebels were relocated to Mumbai,to remain out of reach of the desperate coalition leaders,who made an abortive attempt to woo them back. In the process,the Congress, in particular , faced much embarrassment after MTB Nagaraj, the rebel it had managed to woo back, quietly hopped onto a chartered flight to join other disgruntled legislators in Mumbai.

In the midst of this drama, there were also allegations that Siddaramiah had a lot to do with the resignations as he wanted the coalition with the JDS called off.

The coalition leaders ,meanwhile, even tried their best to stall the trust vote ,hoping as they were of convincing their rebels to return,even promising to change the chief minister or ,for that matter, make them ministers. This was another sorry aspect of the crisis that people of the state witnessed where politicians were willing to stoop to any level for power and pelf.

Temporary gains

Admittedly, following the win during the confidence vote, the BJP is obviously cock a hoop. The challenges ,in the event it forms the government,however, are more serious. These pertain to its stability considering the manner in which it has realised its majority in the house.

Secondly, subject to all other factors going in favour of the rebels , the question that would inevitably arise is: how many would the party want to induct in its ministry finally.

The coalition leaders, on their part, did not fail to warn the BJP that just as their government had been betrayed by the rebels, it too could suffer a similar fate considering the fact that there was a premium on loyalty.

This apart, even before the trust vote was over,a section of the BJP leaders were quietly raising some serious questions relating to the fate of the rebels concerned. The argument was simple: in the event everything goes well for them, how many would actually reap the benefit of their support to the BJP.?

After all, the BJP has enough stalwarts waiting in the wings to join its government, as and when it is formed. Under the circumstances, even if a few of the rebels are accommodated in the ministry , it would displease many party aspirants who would lose out on a berth.

Equally important, for now a section of the BJP leaders believe that Yeddyurappa could have a major problem even after forming the government as the party has over 30 former ministers.

In addition ,they have a former chief minister in Jagdish Shettar as well. How many would Yeddyurappa accommodate,finally, would be interesting to watch though the situation is bound to get clear in the coming days.

One thing is clear though. The party’s central leadership will play a major role in the formation of the government ,something that could help Yeddyurappa no end.

One thing is clear though. The party’s central leadership will play a major role in the formation of the government ,something that could help Yeddyurappa no end.

These issue apart, the next government in Karnataka would have a lot on its plate in terms of governance,starting with the serious drought that a major section of the state is grappling with. At last count almost 156 of the 176 taluks were affected by drought and the Kumaraswamy government had very little to contribute in terms of its efforts to help the affected farmers.

Even its much touted loan waiver scheme came a cropper as despite the huge publicity, very few farmers actually benefited. If this was not all, thousands of farmers who had received loan waiver amounts directly into their bank accounts, were shocked to see the money being pulled out,ostensibly on government orders,post Lok Sabha results.

As some of the affected farmers told this correspondent, a section of the government officials had informed them that the Gowda family was angry with them for not voting for the JDS during the Lok Sabha polls. Irrespective of the merit or otherwise of such charges, the fact is that the BJP government would have to take a call on helping the farmers who have been impacted severely by the drought.

Likewise, following poor monsoons since the last few years,along with the growing encroachment of lakes in the IT capital, for example, the people are facing acute shortage of drinking water. That is a major problem that the new government would need to tackle fast.

In a related development, meanwhile , prospects of the BJP enjoying a comparatively smooth functioning, albeit for a short time, appear to be brightening with the possibility of the Congress and JDS falling apart as a combine..

This could actually become a reality in the event byelections to the 15 constituencies represented by the rebels at this point, are held.