Karnataka turmoil: two trust votes in 10 days

Of political immaturity and power politics in the State

The coalition came into being because of the Congress’ initiative to prevent the BJP from forming the government.

The coalition came into being because of the Congress’ initiative to prevent the BJP from forming the government.  

Karnataka’s 14-month-old Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) coalition government, which came to an end on Tuesday, was a bundle of contradictions from day one. Its impending downfall after the Lok Sabha elections 2019, irrespective of the results, was almost a foregone conclusion. However, the dramatic twists and turns that this known political plot has witnessed and its cliff-hanger final moments leave behind many questions about the State’s political culture and India’s constitutional democracy.

Subversions all the way

The rule of this coalition government would go down in the history of the State as one which saw the worst-ever political immaturity and the most alarming underbelly of power politics. While all the three parties — the coalition partners and the Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party — will have to share the blame for this new low in politics equally, the BJP once again excelled in subverting the Constitutional democracy by making a mockery of the anti-defection laws. The BJP’s strategy has been to secure the resignation of legislators from the rival parties and get them re-elected as its nominees. It applied this strategy in 2008 to strengthen its first-ever government with a wafer-thin majority and this time, in a subtle but uglier display of tricks, to unseat the coalition government.

The coalition came into being because of the initiative of the Congress to prevent the BJP from forming the government after it emerged the single largest party in 2018 Assembly elections. The Congress leadership felt partnering with the JD(S) would also strengthen its fight against the BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The Congress underestimated the local sentiments against this tie-up with its long-time rival. While the anger of the rank and file was understandable, what baffled every observer subsequently was the utter immaturity and short-sightedness shown by some senior leaders in both parties, who were constantly at each other’s throat. The ever-growing bickering, both within the partnering parties and between them, in full public display, disillusioned the workers and disappointed the voters. The coalition was decimated in the Lok Sabha elections as it could win just two of the 28 Lok Sabha seats.

In this backdrop, it was pretty much clear that the government of Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy was headed for an imminent fall. The BJP could have waited for this and then explored the possibility of forming the government but the saffron party showed no such mature patience. Although its earlier efforts to engineer a defection from the coalition had failed repeatedly and its dark designs were exposed, it remained undaunted. As the coalition stood battered by electoral defeat and internal rebellion, the BJP managed to get the resignation of 15 legislators reducing the government to a minority in the Assembly. The legal battle that the coalition leaders waged in the Supreme Court did not give them any relief, but the entire political drama once again exposed the weakness of the existing Constitutional provisions in tackling engineered defections. Expectedly, the coalition government has also not evoked any public sympathy despite being a victim of such grave political machinations of BJP. Its public image was seriously dented because of constant infighting. Added to this was its poor record of governance. Crucial portfolios like primary education for long remained without a Minister. The equally crucial higher education portfolio was thrust upon a Minister, who expressed his disinterest and inability to handle it. In some lucrative departments, the hush-hush of corruption was heard repeatedly. Disputes over sharing these spoils is said to be the main reason for the disgruntlement of so many legislators.

Historically, this is the fourth time a coalition experiment is cut short in Karnataka. While the neighbouring Kerala has institutionalised its own model of coalition politics, Karnataka’s tryst with the coalition model has always been a failure. In 1983, the Janata Party and the BJP partnered to form a government with the latter extending outside support to the government but it lasted only for a little more than a year. In 2004, the Congress and the JD(S) coalition failed in 20 months. The JD(S)-BJP coalition, which replaced it, also came crashing in the next 20 months. The fourth experiment has met with a more turbulent end now.

History would also document that the BJP, despite its national-level exploits, could form its own government in this southern State only by resorting to questionable means twice after having failed to win a decisive mandate of the people. (The writer is Associate Professor, Azim Premji University)

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Printable version | Feb 21, 2020 12:35:34 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/karnataka/of-political-immaturity-and-power-politics-in-the-state/article28692460.ece

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