ANALYSIS: Chief Minister's political signal backfired; pot of discontent has boiled over
Eager to re-establish his authority over his government — badly eroded last November when he caved in to the demands of the Reddy brothers of Bellary — Karnataka Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa unwittingly paved the way for the chain of events that followed last month's Cabinet expansion.
Mr. Yeddyurappa tried to send out a strong political signal that he was his own man and could do as he liked in Karnataka. He brought back to the Cabinet Shobha Karandlaje, who was dropped expressly at the insistence of the powerful mining lobby represented by the Reddys, and simultaneously dropped three Ministers reported to be close to them. Those who were dropped and others who had expected to join the Cabinet became the nucleus of the dissidents.
Bharatiya Janata Party sources here admitted that the seeds of discontent were sown when the Cabinet reshuffle took place on September 22. “Initially, the Reddy brothers and a powerful leader at the Centre encouraged the dissenters, and later when the Janata Dal (Secular) and the Congress jumped in and started a serious bid to topple the government, they backed out and even tried to save the government. But by that time the pot of discontent had boiled over," a BJP insider said.
Ironically, BJP president Nitin Gadkari described the “winning” of the trust vote by the Yeddyurappa government by voice vote as a “victory of democracy” and “true homage to JP [Jayaprakash Narain, whose birth anniversary fell on Monday].” Mr. Gadkari decried what he called the “totally unethical and unconstitutional” advice Governor H.R. Bhardwaj gave Speaker K.G. Bopaiah not to disqualify any legislator before the vote was cast. Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj expressed “shock and outrage” at Mr. Bhardwaj's “partisan and unconstitutional” behaviour, and said he was “unfit to hold high constitutional office” and must be “immediately recalled.”
Party spokesperson Shahnawaz Hussain said Mr. Bhardwaj had been brought to Bangalore to destabilise the Karnataka government. “This is a game the Congress has played for a long time, but the BJP will expose this and will not tolerate it at all,” he said speaking from Patna.
However, behind these cries of indignation was the stark reality that shocked some partymen. “If a voice vote can determine the outcome of a trust vote or a vote of no-confidence, then no government can fall even when it is clearly in a minority,” admitted one leader not willing to go ay it on record. Even if the Opposition was making it impossible to record an orderly vote, the Speaker could have adjourned the House for a while and made another attempt to record a vote, this leader said.
Yet another noted that Mr. Yeddyurappa had “gathered” his MLAs through “operation lotus,” poaching on Independents as well as MLAs of other parties and enticed them with offers of ministerial berths. The poaching was legitimised by their resignations from the Assembly and re-election on BJP ticket. “These MLAs were now ready to go the way they came – through hefty bribes,” another party functionary noted.
In last year's crisis, Ms. Swaraj played an important role and helped the party get round the Reddy brothers, who had raised the banner of revolt against the Chief Minister. But after that, a whisper campaign by some senior party leaders began making accusations that she was protecting the Reddys. This time Ms. Swaraj kept herself away from the Karnataka theatre, allowing the others who had made accusations against her to manage the crisis themselves, another leader disclosed.
Yet another dimension to the Karnataka crisis is that some leaders who were angry over not being consulted on government formation in Jharkhand will now sharpen their knives against Mr. Gadkari. Why, after all, did he give the green signal for Cabinet expansion knowing the delicate balance that needed to be maintained in Karnataka?