We know what a party usually needs to topple a government: suitcases full of cash, plush resorts, promises of plum posts and mind games.
But what does a ruling party need to save its government from being toppled? Same as above, of course — plus audio/video tapes if possible. Sometimes, any one of these will do.
For Karnataka chief minister HD Kumaraswamy of Janata Dal (Secular) to rescue his coalition government from BJP’s onslaught, an 80-minute audio tape did the trick.
If ever there was a political game changer, this tape was one. It supposedly proves that state BJP president BS Yeddyurappa was enticing MLAs of the Congress-JD(S) coalition with the usual promises of money and minister’s jobs.
Nobody can be sure about the legal consequences of an inquiry by a Special Investigation Team (SIT) of the police that Kumaraswamy has ordered into the tape because of the well-known uncertainties over forensic authentication of recorded voices. But the tape’s political fallouts were immediate and dramatic. Four rebel MLAs of Congress and one of JD(S) returned to the coalition.
Though the threat to the government was largely a result of the internal squabbles over power within Congress, the tape turned the tables: it has helped the coalition protect its flock and has left BJP on the defensive. In view of the looming Lok Sabha elections, the audio also amounts to a huge embarrassment for Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP President Amit Shah.
The tape has the purported voice of Yeddyurappa offering money and a minister’s post to the son of a JD(S) MLA to persuade his father to resign. It also has a voice, allegedly that of a BJP MLA, saying the party has taken care of Assembly Speaker Ramesh Kumar with a Rs-50-crore payoff and has even compromised judges in case the anti-defection law was applied. Kumaraswamy released only a couple of audio clips on 8 February, but made a political killing on Wednesday by releasing the entire 80-minute tape.
There have been innumerable tapes of this kind before in Karnataka, but this one is perhaps not only the longest but also contains the most audacious attempt to buy up MLAs. After first denying that the whole tape had been faked, Yeddyurappa later admitted he had indeed met the MLA’s son but said the incriminating part of the conversation had been concocted with a mimicked voice.
Return of the rebels
This has brought to nought months of plotting by Yeddyurappa to destabilise the government by exploiting the dogfights within Congress and JD(S) and between both the parties. The failure of BJP’s so-called Operation Lotus is evident from the new party position in the Assembly, following the U-turn by rebels who have been staying in a Mumbai hotel for a month. Besides, one of the two Independents who had withdrawn support for the coalition too is back in its fold.
This BJP now has the support of 105 members in the assembly of 225 (including the nominated member), and the alliance’s tally is 119. Yeddyurappa’s dream that a dozen or so MLAs would ditch the coalition, causing a collapse of the government, lies shattered. Even the half-a-dozen who seemed inclined to defect have now changed their minds.
The return of the rebels and the Independent to the alliance does not amount to a purification of their conscience after a diligent introspection of the morality of political defection. Nor does it mean a sudden aversion to power which may have tempted them earlier. It simply means jumping from the fence to the side that looks greener or letting themselves be swept in the general direction of political wind.
Since the game of toppling involves as much of psychological trickery as political musical chairs, the volte face by the rebels is sure to have a ripple effect on other potential dissidents, discouraging them from switching sides.
The upshot of all this for Yeddyurappa is that, if he indeed has the temerity to resume the Operation Lotus, he must start from scratch. Or he must wait for either Kumaraswamy or the Congress leaders to do something foolish that will trigger another round of rebellion, which is an unlikely prospect, unless they are bent on committing a political hara-kiri before the Lok Sabha election.
There was no way the BJP’s central leadership would have officially sanctioned Operation Lotus. Yet only the naive can believe that the misadventure had no tacit approval from the Modi-Sha duo. It’s also amply clear that only Yeddyurappa and his close associates have been part of it, while others in the party favoured focusing on elections.
Shah may have hoped that the fall of the Congress-JD(S) government, while helping Yeddyurappa fulfill his personal ambition to become the chief minister once again, might facilitate BJP to improve its 2014 Lok Sabha tally of 17 seats out of Karnataka’s 28. While the prospects in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Kerala are utterly bleak for BJP, Karnataka is the only state in South where it can reasonably hope for a double-digit figure.
Shah has reasons to be upset with Yeddyurappa and his faction for not only botching up the operation but also for being too preoccupied with wooing of MLAs to do any useful work in preparation for the election.
It’s quite clear that both for the good of his own party and with respect for rule of law and democratic decency, Shah must call an immediate halt to this ignominy called Operation Lotus. He must ask his partymen to stick to a more legal and moral way of conducting their politics.
Author tweets @sprasadindia
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Updated Date: Feb 15, 2019 09:08:54 IST