Power play: on Karnataka political crisis

BJP senses an opportunity to return to power in Karnataka through a series of defections

Updated - July 04, 2019 12:33 am IST

Published - July 04, 2019 12:02 am IST

With two MLAs of the Congress resigning from the Karnataka Assembly , it is clear that horse-trading to pull down the State government is under way. The BJP is not just waiting in the wings; it is actively trying to reenact a script it has perfected over a decade and more. The resignations of Vijayanagar MLA Anand Singh and Gokak MLA Ramesh Jarkiholi can only be seen as a replay of a strategy the BJP used earlier, luring Opposition MLAs to resign from the Assembly, thereby forcing by-elections. The BJP’s confidence in winning the by-polls stems from its spectacular showing in the Lok Sabha election. The party is yet to reconcile itself to the role of the Opposition after having emerged as the single largest party in the May 2018 Assembly election. At 105 seats in the 224-strong House, it was eight short of a simple majority and began plans to manoeuvre its way to power. The BJP appears to be convinced that the time is ripe for a strike, both because of its success in the parliamentary election and the disenchantment in the Congress over the alliance with the JD(S). If enough number of coalition MLAs resign, the BJP could claim a majority with its present strength in an Assembly of reduced strength, and by-polls could follow. The Congress-JD(S) coalition could be facing a stormy Assembly session, scheduled to begin on July 12.

A Karnataka model had come to inspire non-BJP parties nationally after the formation of the coalition government. The Congress decision to concede the Chief Minister’s position to junior partner JD(S) in order to prevent it from joining hands with the BJP was remarkable. But it was also remarkable for its opportunism. Instability is inherent in coalitions led by smaller partners, but the present contradictions in the Congress in Karnataka, the only southern State where the party is face-to-face with the BJP, have another dimension. Legislators yearning for positions of power is nothing unusual, but they usually think twice before crossing over to a different party. The skills of leaders and claims of a larger purpose, howsoever meagre those may be, are factors that hold together vastly divergent ambitions within a political party. The Congress is lacking in these aspects and is paying a heavy price. If power is the only glue, it is natural that legislators who are denied ministerial berths would rebel. The party still enjoys significant public support in Karnataka, as was demonstrated in the local body elections weeks after its rout in the Lok Sabha election. The Congress cannot lend itself to brazen business and rent-seeking rivalries that overshadow politics in Karnataka. If the party and its coalition survive the current turmoil it will still be only a hiatus. Their long-term survival will be even more challenging, requiring an ideological reorientation and commitment to addressing the people’s larger livelihood concerns.

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