What do you need to topple a government? Just tonnes of cash, plush resorts and promises of plum posts? Wrong. You must also play mind games.
Indira Gandhi knew this best, and she turned mind games into a fine art that would have made Machiavelli proud. Take for instance what she did in Karnataka after the Janata Party's Ramakrishna Hegde formed the state's first non-Congress government in 1983. She allowed state Congress MP Nanje Gowda to publicly announce a "deadline" for toppling Hegde.
Nanje Gowda's bizarre announcement made many of Hegde's MLAs wonder if their government would survive and whether they should defect to the Congress. Then rumours were spread that legislators were deserting Hegde. What Indira apparently expected to happen is what psychologists call the "bandwagon effect": The human tendency to go where others are going or are thought to be going.
It has been proved often enough that with negotiable loyalties, many elected representatives in India are no better than wind vanes, ready to let themselves be blown in the general direction of the political winds. Nanje Gowda's deadline also left people wondering whether he had Indira's sanction for what he was doing. She was silent about the whole thing because if things got hot, she could always claim with a shrug of her shoulders that she had nothing to do with it. Her game failed in Karnataka but she institutionalised the phenomenon of throwing out Opposition governments elsewhere.
When Indira was doing all this in Karnataka, BS Yeddyurappa, now the state BJP president, was a 40-year-old first-time MLA of the party, that then supported the Hegde government. What Yeddyurappa is doing now is not very different from what Congress has been doing in Karnataka and across India to topple governments.
He has been setting "deadlines" for bringing down the HD Kumaraswamy government. The latest one has led to an explosion of publicity for what would normally have been a quiet operation of manoeuvring defections. In the minds of many, the media blitz over Yeddyurappa's so-called Operation Lotus has raised doubts about how long the government will last. What added to these doubts was the withdrawal of support for the government by two Independents, bringing down the alliance's strength to 117 in a House of 224.
There is talk of more MLAs dumping Kumaraswamy. But Yeddyurappa needs at least 14 more MLAs of the alliance to resign from the Assembly (in view of the anti-defection law) or abstain from voting in case of a vote of confidence to be able to stake his claim to form an alternative government. That seems a tall order at least for now, but Yeddyurappa is hoping for the "bandwagon effect" to take place to trigger more defections that will reduce the coalition to a minority.
But a mind game can be a two-way affair and can even backfire on the first mover. On its part, the Congress is spreading rumours of BJP MLAs ditching the party, taking the wind out of the saffron party's sails a bit. The departure of two MLAs from the coalition, however, means that it's BJP that has won the first round.
Disenchantment within the alliance is so high that it would be of little surprise if a few Congress MLAs quit the party, but the number may not be big enough to cause the government’s fall. That’s what makes Kumaraswamy express supreme confidence over continuing in office, although some of his colleagues are not prepared to share his optimism.
Congress greed versus BJP greed
The troubles of the Congress-JD(S) alliance, no doubt, are of its own making. The naked greed for power has left many MLAs, especially those of the Congress, seething with frustration. And those who couldn't make it to the ministry in the 22 December cabinet expansion could no longer take it.
Then, the BJP's own greed for power took over. It was hardly surprising that Congress dissidents turned into sitting ducks for the BJP to poach. With the prey winking, the predator couldn’t resist the temptation.
What Yeddyurappa wants
Yeddyurappa is indulging in the poaching exercise despite opposition to it from a substantial section of his own party. The opponents of this project are of two kinds. One group hates it because it detests Yeddyurappa and whatever he does. The last thing it wants is to have him back as the chief minister. The second group of leaders don't want it because they think the party must focus all its energies on doing well in the next Lok Sabha election instead of shopping for Congress MLAs and forming government.
But Yeddyurappa is desperate to try his luck to become chief minister once again. He was the chief minister thrice in the past. The first time around in 2007, he lasted only seven days in the top job, because JD(S), that had allied with the BJP at that time, pulled the rug out from under his feet. The second time, he was the chief minister for three years and two months between 2008 and 2011, but had to resign following corruption charges. The third time, he lasted six days after the Assembly election last year, but quit after he failed to cobble together enough MLAs. So he now wants a fourth and final chance in a hurry: He is 76, after all.
Why Amit Shah wants it
It’s foolish to even imagine that Yeddyurappa lacks the approval of party national president Amit Shah for Operation Lotus. Like Indira in the past, Shah is staying aloof from the Karnataka operation, just in case things go awry. A tacit, unstated approval is less risky.
Dislodging the Kumaraswamy government, besides suiting Yeddyurappa's personal ambitions, fits perfectly into Shah and the BJP's scheme of things. Getting rid of the government in Karnataka would mean cutting off an important source of election funds for the Congress in the next Lok Sabha election. Of the five states and one Union Territory in which the Congress is in power, Karnataka is the biggest source of slush money.
And for BJP, Karnataka is the only state in the South where it can hope for a Lok Sabha seat tally in double digits. In 2014, it won 17 of the state's 28 seats with a 43 percent vote share. In the 2018 Assembly polls, the party emerged as the single largest party, although its popular vote fell to 36.3 percent. By choking the cash supply for the Congress, the BJP hopes to do better in the Lok Sabha election in the state.
A fall of the coalition government would also add grist to BJP’s propaganda mill, giving the party ample chance to go to town about the vulnerability of a national anti-BJP Mahagathbandhan that is in the making.
Besides, depriving Yeddyurappa of a chance to realise his ambition to become the chief minister for the last time will infuriate the Lingayat leader. With all the factionalism and organisational disarray in the Karnataka BJP, the central leadership knows one thing: The party is in a mess in the state with Yeddyurappa at the helm but could be worse off without him.
The author tweets @sprasadindia
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Updated Date: Jan 16, 2019 21:18:53 IST