Haste makes waste. That's the piece of ancient wisdom BJP president and Union home minister Amit Shah remembered while finally deciding what to do in Karnataka. The party's state unit had been working as if there was no tomorrow to destabilise the notoriously fickle and wobbly government of the coalition of Congress and Janata Dal (Secular). But after the government finally collapsed on 23 July, Shah waited some 60 hours before nodding his wise head and letting BS Yediyurappa take oath as the chief minister.
By then, an uptight Yediyurappa had changed the spelling of his name from Yeddyurappa for good luck and begun to drive himself up the walls of his home, outwardly forcing a smile on his long face but inwardly fretting over the delay. One reason was that Shah was busy with the proceedings of Parliament. But the more important reason was that the BJP potentate was shrewdly weighing the pros and cons of options because he knew that the numbers in the Assembly could make a new BJP government as unstable as the one his party had kicked out.
There seemed to be as many reasons for the BJP to form a government as there were for forgoing the chance and opting for President’s rule at least for a while. But in the end, the pros of anointing Yediyurappa as chief minister apparently outnumbered the cons.
Why Amit Shah was hesitant
What must have worried Shah was the BJP’s hairbreadth margin in the Assembly over the Congress-JD(S) combine. If the coalition lost the trust vote, it was because 20 members abstained from the Assembly, reducing the effective strength of the House from 224 to 204 and halfway majority mark to 103. The BJP romped home with its 105 members. Abstentions by rebels will once again help Yediyurappa win his own trust vote, which he said he would face on Monday. But that victory would be in the short term.
It will be a different story in the longer term. Though the speaker has disqualified three members, he is still to decide on the resignations by 15 others—12 of the Congress and three of JD(S)—from the Assembly. The speaker can either accept the resignations or disqualify them for defying the whips of the two parties and abstaining from the House on 23 July. In either case, the BJP must win more than half the by-elections that would be held in due course in the seats falling vacant to enjoy a safe majority in a full Assembly where the midway majority would be 113. All this throws in a quite a bit of uncertainty even after Yediyurappa wins Monday’s vote.
Then there was the question of quid pro quo for the Congress and JD(S) rebels to think about, a tough bargain considering that the Karnataka ministry’s sanctioned strength is 34 and the BJP itself has double this number of do-or-die aspirants. The speaker’s decision would make it even more complicated.
If the speaker disqualifies rebels, they may not be able to contest elections for the Assembly’s remaining term of four years. Only the courts can cut short that period of banishment. And if the speaker chooses to accept their resignations, they could contest by-elections in the seats they are leaving vacant. Whatever the Speaker does, the rebels would want a piece of the cake. And, in the meanwhile, the very threat of disqualification could, as the Congress and JD(S) leaders hope, might make some of them withdraw their resignations and return to their respective parties before Yediyurappa’s trust vote.
And Shah had to strike before the rebels could change their minds. Now that he has struck, the dissidents must fight it out legally, if necessary, saying they had resigned before the parties issued whips and so can’t be disqualified.
Why Shah is taking the gamble
On the other hand, not letting Yediyurappa become the chief minister was fraught with the risk of antagonising the 76-year-old upper-caste Lingayat leader, whose devotion to power famously outstrips his dedication to the Sangh Parivar. Besides Narendra Modi’s immense personal popularity in Karnataka, it's Yediyurappa's clout among Lingayats that is the single biggest factor which makes the BJP tick in the state. This was one good reason why Shah agreed to the seven-time MLA taking over as chief minister once again though he crossed the BJP’s unwritten age bar.
There are two other equally good reasons. One is that by letting the BJP reign in Karnataka, Shah could rub salt into the injury of the already highly demoralised Congress. With Karnataka, the number of states BJP rules goes up to 14, and the tally of the Congress drops to five: Punjab, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and the Puducherry. The blow that the BJP has delivered to the Congress in Karnataka has the subliminal potential to ruin the psyche of that party, already made rudderless after Rahul Gandhi resigned as president two months ago, especially when elections in Maharashtra, Haryana and Jharkhand are round the corner.
The other good reason is 2024. Shah can never lose sight of the Lok Sabha election five years from now. Despite winning a mammoth victory in the recent Lok Sabha poll nationwide and bagging 25 of Karnataka’s 28 seats, Shah won’t rest on his laurels. Forming the government in Karnataka—and making it last—can help the party consolidate itself further in the state. It can then go full throttle on Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, where its prospects seem bright in the south after Karnataka.
Shah apparently reckons he can make the government in Karnataka last. He knows he can’t do that if he gives a free rein to Yediyurappa, who is known to rub people in his party on the wrong side faster than he attracts rebels from other parties. Shah may do plenty of backseat driving through trusted aides to ensure that the party doesn’t run out of luck, whichever way the Karnataka leader spells his name.
Updated Date: Jul 29, 2019 08:18:22 IST