In hindsight, it appears that the elevation of the Congress “outsider” Siddaramaiah to CM in 2013 drove the proverbial last nail in the party’s coffin in Karnataka.
Perhaps even he could’ve salvaged the party and government, had he taken the old guard and “natives” into confidence or at least earned the goodwill of the people with well-thought out policies.
But it appears that from day one, he embarked on a suicide mission. One of the first things he did after coming to power was to create a cloister of his hard core loyalists both within the party and government, tumbling from blunder to blunder and creating massive dissensions and rampant unpopularity in his wake.
An anti-climax of sorts was reached with the cabinet reshuffle last June. When he unceremoniously ditched heavyweights like M H Ambareesh and V Srinivasa Prasad (a mentor of sorts to Siddaramaiah), backlash was anticipated but not its severity: Arson and violence in his own backyard of Nanjanagud from his own party men.
Vowing revenge, Srinivasa Prasad defected to the BJP, paving way for fresh elections in Nanjanagud on April 9, 2017. Add to this the elections to the Gundlupet constituency caused by the death of minister H S Mahadev Prasad, Siddaramaiah’s cup of woes now runneth over.
Indeed, the outcome of the polls of these two constituencies will, seal the fate of the Siddaramaiah government one way or the other.
What should truly worry the Congress party is the defection of lifelong Congressman and former chief minister S M Krishna to the BJP last week. As this Firstpost analysis puts it well:
If the ruling Congress appears like a lazy student who mugs up on the eve of the exam, BJP is already like the diligent pupil who has started preparations well in advance.
BJP's election managers in Karnataka, having identified the party's strengths and weaknesses, are in the advanced stages of preparing a blueprint to ensure victory. Their job has been made easier by the mess that the Congress has created for itself, with myriad scams and non-performance.
Forget the BJP, everyone in the Congress knows that the Siddaramaiah government is tottering. Even that might not last till 2018. Because if the CM loses the two aforementioned bypolls in his own backyard, his cabinet and MLAs might not even wait till 2018, given their bleak future political careers.
Indications of the kind of damage S M Krishna’s exit might inflict on the party came from Congress spokesperson Rajeev Gowda:
Krishna should have been a little more patient, he would have seen the impact of these changes and we could have used his advice and experience as well.
If he had waited for little more time, he would have experienced that there is lot of internal effort that is going on for reorganising the party, revitalising the party.
Which begs the question: why didn’t the party make use of his “advice and experience” in these four years? During the same period, it’s no secret that people in Karnataka were treated to frequent outbursts from S M Krishna on the “decline of Congress” and how he had been calculatedly sidelined. And so it was only a question of when, and not if S M Krishna would abandon the Congress.
Krishna’s exit yet again points the needle of accountability towards the decayed Congress High Command a.k.a dynasty. His indirect swipe at Rahul Gandhi’s style of politics a “hit-and-run job…a part-time job,” reflects the truth of the adage that Rahul Gandhi’s age is lesser than S M Krishna’s political experience.
Indeed, Krishna’s exit is symptomatic of many Congress leaders of his vintage and stature. The Gandhi glue that kept them within the party has come unstuck under the singular leadership of Rahul Gandhi.
At one time, leaders like him enjoyed the confidence of the so-called High Command and he had the relative freedom as chief minister to manage a large and prosperous state as well as contain internal dissensions. But now with a largely moribund High Command and a CM who continues to run amok, there’s really no reason for Krishna to stay back.
Indeed, another measure of the High Command’s frailty is its repeated failure to rein in the unpopular Siddaramaiah because ever since that fatal summer of 2014, the dynasty no longer commands the same political or moral authority and instead depends on state leaders like him for survival and finances.
In this light, Rajeev Gowda’s remark only unsubtly betrays his fear about his party’s prospects in the near future caused by Krishna’s exit. The Vokkaliga belt in the hugely influential Old Mysore region has always been the BJP’s weak wicket.
So, while Krishna’s defection might not swing a majority of these votes towards the BJP, it certainly has the potential to damage the Congress. Equally, the other strong competitor for Vokkaliga votes, the Janata Dal (Secular) will also hurt the Congress badly.
The names of a dozen other Congress leaders, who already have one tentative foot in the BJP, are doing the rounds in Bengaluru.
By all indications, this is just the beginning of what may turn into an exodus in the coming weeks and months.
But what really offers a telling portent for the future is the fact that the High Command has continued to remain inert at these worrying developments. As a sort of mirror to how it snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in Goa, the Congress has simply lost the will to fight back if only for its very survival.
Meanwhile, some of the key state Congress functionaries that this writer met after Krishna’s exit say that about 30 MLAs are ready to jump ship depending on how the Nanjanagud and Gundlupet byelections turn out. And if those MLAs do indeed defect, it’ll reduce the Congress to a minority government paving way for elections.
And the manner in which developments are unfolding in the state at the moment seems to indicate that this mass defection might likely occur much before 2018.
On the BJP’s side, a premature fall of the Siddaramaiah government also makes sense given the fact that the emphatic Congress victory in Punjab recently breathed some oxygen into the ailing party. A premature exit in Karnataka would further demoralise the Grand Old Party.
Whether 9 April, 2017 will turn out to be the Ides of March for the Congress in Karnataka will depend both on Siddaramaiah and the BJP.
Updated Date: Mar 30, 2017 17:59 PM