The fruits of defeat: on Karnataka government formation

After the fractured verdict in Karnataka and the hastily concluded post-poll marriage of convenience between the Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular), the Bharatiya Janata Party had the option of taking the high moral ground as the single largest party that was thwarted by the opportunistic politics of its rivals. Instead, the BJP chose to mud-wrestle its way to power by pulling strings at the Raj Bhavan and trying to entice newly elected members of other parties. The end-result was predictable: the party had dirt all over and nothing to show for it. B.S. Yeddyurappa resigned rather than face a vote of confidence that he was sure to lose, but not before the BJP’s brazen attempts to buy votes and support were exposed. The BJP took a serious dent to its image at the national level, and was left without both power and the moral authority to attack the political opportunism of the Congress and the JD(S). Although parallels have been drawn to the BJP’s Operation Lotus that engineered defections in 2008, the situation was different then. The BJP was only three short of a majority in a House with six Independents, many of whom were eager to offer their support. And, unlike now, no combination of parties that excluded the BJP could have commanded a majority.

The deal-clincher for the Congress now was its readiness to hand over the post of Chief Minister to the JD(S), a course of action it did not contemplate in 2004 when it formed a post-poll coalition with the JD(S). The Congress-JD(S) government did not last the full term then, and the JD(S) formed a short-lived government with the BJP’s help. In the face of the BJP juggernaut in the post-2014 phase, the Congress seems to have adopted a new pragmatism that recognises the importance of smaller players. Some of this was seen in Gujarat, where the Congress accommodated different caste and identity groups in stitching together a broad social coalition against the BJP. In Karnataka, it went one step further in the post-poll situation, allowing the JD(S) the leadership of the government despite winning more seats. Regional parties such as the Trinamool Congress have been suggesting that the Congress vacate political space for parties best equipped to fight the BJP. A more pragmatic, more humble Congress is what they want at the head of an Opposition alliance ahead of 2019. But, for the same reason that the Congress found it easier to stitch together a post-poll understanding than a pre-poll alliance with the JD(S), seat-sharing will be difficult where there are three-way contests. The BJP’s misadventure in Karnataka may have brought the Congress and the JD(S) closer, but this is no blueprint for 2019. Pre-poll alliances are not made without the pain of defeat and the hard knocks of reality.

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Printable version | May 6, 2021 10:48:43 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/the-fruits-of-defeat/article23944117.ece

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