Collapse of Congress-JD(S) government in Karnataka: State may slip from one phase of uncertainty to another

The death of a long-suffering patient after being taken off life-supporting systems usually throws up a spooky mixture of relief and grief. The collapse of Karnataka's lame duck Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) government on Tuesday is similar, but not the same.

There is humongous relief for the people of Karnataka because the suspense was killing. There is also grief, but it isn’t over the demise of a government that was never really there in terms of governance. If there is sadness, it’s because nobody knows what happens next, except that the BJP will form the next government.

That the alliance government fell 14 months after it was formed is no surprise. The surprise was that it lasted so long. Enough has been said about what went wrong with it.

Everything was wrong with it ever since it was formed by two disparate parties united by nothing but a desire to keep the BJP out of power. While it's easy to see why it collapsed, it’s tough to imagine, at least at this point in time, how long the new BJP government will last and what's in store for the Congress and JD(S).

 Collapse of Congress-JD(S) government in Karnataka: State may slip from one phase of uncertainty to another

File image of BS Yeddyurappa. PTI

What next in Karnataka?

The only thing that's pretty certain now is that the Congress and JD(S) will soon wash their dirty laundry in public more openly than they have been doing so far. For the record, the two are blaming horse-trading by the BJP for the government's fall, a charge of which the saffron party cannot be fully absolved. But soon, the Congress and JD(S) will heap the choicest abuse on each other for the messy end of their government.

Outgoing chief minister HD Kumaraswamy and his father and JD(S) overlord HD Deve Gowda will talk of backstabbing by the Congress. Kumaraswamy will probably stop shedding tears — something he did in the past over how tough alliance partner Congress made it for him to govern the state — and start spewing venom about that party with a special focus on Siddaramaiah.

You could depend upon Gowda to employ the worst of his biting sarcasm to rip Siddaramaiah apart for covertly wrecking the government. It’s only a matter of time for Gowda to blame Siddaramaiah for his and his grandson’s defeat in the recent Lok Sabha election. He has said as much before, but he will say it now with sulphuric acid in his voice.

The need for preserving their spoils of power forced the Congress and JD(S) to put up a united fight against BJP in the last three weeks of uncertainty. But the long overdue fall of their government snaps this last vestige of unity and throws up questions over the very need for their alliance, called "unholy" in polite language. The two parties may soon return to being what they were before the May 2018 Assembly election: Sworn enemies fighting for the same vote banks in the southern Karnataka where they are strongest.

In other words, Karnataka will once again shift from bipolar to triangular politics, and it doesn’t need a megaton of political wisdom to forecast that it will benefit the BJP. Between the Congress and the JD(S), which party will gain from this new matrix is still too early to say, though it’s likely the former might, in view of the widespread disgust with the way the latter is run as a family fief of the Gowdas.

And it shouldn’t come as a great shock if, in the process, the Gowda clan cosies up to the BJP to keep its options open for the next Assembly or Lok Sabha elections.

Stable government by BJP?

Karnataka, no doubt, has become the latest example for the shame brought on by negotiable loyalties of legislators that blight the commerce called politics. But, in the end, it was beyond horse-trading. Dissidents refused to bait the blandishments tossed at them by the two parties in power, which only demonstrated the intensity of the legislators’ revulsion towards the alliance and utter lack of faith in its future. The loathing for the outgoing government was so deep that even many leaders of the alliance welcome the end of their government in the interests of their own future.

Yet it was also a game of numbers after all, and that’s precisely what threatens to keep the new BJP government on the tenterhooks of individual greed and blackmail. State BJP president BS Yeddyurappa will take over as the new chief minister with a slim majority of three members in the House, whose effective strength was reduced from 224 to 204 and the half-way mark of simple majority from 113 to 103 at the time of trust vote after 20 MLAs absented themselves. The absentees include 15 MLAs, 12 of the Congress and three of the JD(S) who resigned from the Assembly before the trust vote.

This equation could dramatically change once bypolls are held to the vacancies caused by the acceptance of the resignations of dissidents or their disqualification. For the BJP to offer a stable government, it must win a good number of the Assembly seats in the bypolls when these are held.

Even before that, what may affect the new government is the tricky question of whether the rebels should be deemed to have resigned or should be disqualified under the anti-defection law for defying party whips. In either case, Yeddyurappa will find it tough to keep them happy because the BJP itself has too many ministerial aspirants.

The government’s rock-solid durability for the remaining four years of the Assembly’s term can’t be guaranteed, though it may be stable for now because nobody wants another change so soon. The new government will be vulnerable to the same dirty politics that toppled the old one. Yet the BJP is stepping in with a clear game plan. It was important for the party to throw out this government as part of its larger plan to destroy the Congress, whatever happens to its own regime later. In the worst scenario, the BJP may opt for fresh elections, hoping to win a safe majority.

The BJP thrives in Karnataka partly because of Yeddyurappa’s clout in his upper caste Lingayat community and largely because of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s mammoth popularity that cuts across social and economic divisions. Still, it’s important for Yeddyurappa to offer a credible government and get his political management right. On both counts, Yeddyurappa hasn’t shown exemplary skills in the past.

Starved of a good government for a long, time the people of Karnataka must hope Yeddyurappa will do better than he did in his previous term (2008-2011) as chief minister. He also took oath as chief minister in 2007, when he lasted seven days, and in 2018, when he remained in the job for six glorious days. He must hope that this time round, he will be in for a longer innings.

The author tweets @sprasadindia

Updated Date: Jul 24, 2019 12:47:36 IST