Karnataka coalition crisis: Congress, JD(S) leaders want Siddaramaiah cut to size, but don't expect Rahul to act

Ever since the Karnataka JD(S)-Congress government was sewn up in a hurry a year ago, the alliance has been in a state of falling without actually falling.

Srinivasa Prasad June 07, 2019 17:05:10 IST
Karnataka coalition crisis: Congress, JD(S) leaders want Siddaramaiah cut to size, but don't expect Rahul to act
  • it’s difficult to see how Rahul, whose own leadership of the party is hanging by a thread can take action against anyone.

  • Siddaramaiah made a BJP sweep easier. He and his supporters were largely responsible for disunity within the alliance

  • Even if he wants to, Siddaramaiah may no longer be in a position to save the Karnataka government

A little story about Trishanku in Ramayana can enhance our understanding of the coalition of the Congress and Janata Dal (Secular) in Karnataka:

Having lived a pretty good life, king Trishanku desired to go to heaven. That wasn’t a problem. Heaven is the final abode of all good souls. But Trishanku wanted not only his soul but his entire body — head, toes and everything in between — to reach heaven. That wouldn’t do, but sage Vishwamitra helped him out. And when the king arrived in heaven with soul wrapped in body, the gods threw him out. It wasn’t the recommended dress code for a soul.

The king began to fall to earth. Then Vishwamitra did something to stop that fall and created another heaven around the king. And Trishanku began hanging in midair in that “Trishanku Swarga”: not staying properly and not falling either.

Karnataka coalition crisis Congress JDS leaders want Siddaramaiah cut to size but dont expect Rahul to act

File image of Congress leader Siddaramaiah. Getty Images

That’s the state of Karnataka’s JD(S)-Congress government. Ever since it was sewn up in a hurry a year ago, the alliance has been in a state of falling without actually falling.

Few governments in India have been in such suspended animation for so long.

It’s no exaggeration to say that many in Karnataka pick up their morning newspapers, wondering if the government of Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy of the JD(S) is still there. Any loud mention of Kumaraswamy’s name on TV makes people sit up and wonder if it’s news of his government’s fall.

It was never a secret that former Congress chief minister Siddaramaiah was the Vishwamitra who shot the alliance government into a Trishanku Swarga. There is a difference. Vishwamitra was fulfilling Trishanku’s wish. And Siddaramaiah is making the life of Kumaraswamy, the son of former prime minister HD Deve Gowda, uncomfortable. Siddaramaiah simply can’t stomach the fact that Kumaraswamy is the chief minister because of his long-standing feud with the Gowda family.

Siddaramaiah is in a position to wreak such havoc since Kumaraswamy’s survival depends on the Congress, whose strength in the Assembly is nearly double that of JD(S). While boasting of some loyal followers of his own, Siddaramaiah is also rallying point for rebels demanding ministerial posts. And BJP needs just eight coalition MLAs to destabilise the government.

So one day, Siddaramaiah makes the government look like it’s collapsing any moment. And the very next day he would have us believe that it’s as stable as the 57-foot Lord Gomateshwara statue at Shravanabelagola. One recent example was that of some prominent Siddaramaiah supporters proclaiming that he should be the chief minister.

This  made Kumaraswamy so depressed that, in the five-star hotel suite from where he has been operating as the chief minister for a whole year, he may have mentally sung the Omar Khayyam line: Unborn tomorrow, dead yesterday. But Siddaramaiah “clarified” that he had no intentions to replace Kumaraswamy.

Effect of Lok Sabha poll disaster

From the start, Siddaramaiah was both the troublemaker and the troubleshooter for the khichdi government. This has, so far, been uttered only in hushed tones. But the whispers have been growing louder by the day since last month’s crushing defeat of the Congress and the JD(S) in the Lok Sabha election. The BJP walked away with 24 of the 28 seats, with the alliance winning three.

After the results, leader after leader in both the Congress and the JD(S) has been openly attacking Siddaramaiah for the instability of the government as well as the election debacle.

It may be unfair to blame Siddaramaiah alone for the poor show because the Modi factor took is own toll. Yet, nobody can deny that Siddaramaiah made a BJP sweep easier with he and his supporters being largely responsible for disunity within the Congress, and between the Congress and the JD(S).

Some local Congress leaders expect party president Rahul Gandhi to take some sort of action against Siddaramaiah. But it’s difficult to see how Rahul, whose own leadership of the party is hanging upside down in another Trishanku Swarga, can take action against anyone. Some could even ask how Rahul can take against anyone without taking against himself first for being responsible for the party’s defeat nationally.

But presume for a moment that, like the Pope who can “do no wrong”, Rahul is excluded from the possibility of errors that lowly humans can commit. Even then it’s difficult to see him taking action only against Siddaramaiah unless he also punishes the Ashok Gehlots and Kamal Naths. Besides Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, the Congress is facing serious troubles in Telangana, Punjab, Haryana and Maharashtra, which have Assembly elections later this year along with Jharkhand.

In all these states, any action by Rahul, weakened by the election disaster and confused over leadership, may lead to solutions worse than problems. In Karnataka, giving Siddaramaiah the cold shoulder could trigger the fall of the government which Rahul has professed to protect even after the poll debacle.

On its part, the BJP is going slow on its reported “Operation Lotus” to topple the government. That’s not because the party has developed a sudden aversion to underhand politics. That’s because of two reasons. One is that the party suffers from its own infighting in Karnataka. The other reason is the calculation that if it woos MLAs it must succumb to their demands in a new government. The BJP reckons that if the coalition crumbles on its own and the legislators come to it voluntarily they will be less demanding.

With the central leaderships of the Congress and the BJP deciding to let the government continue, the onus is on Siddaramaiah to protect it. But things have come to such a pass that he may no longer be in a position to save the government even if he wants to, because there are more rebels than ministerial posts available to satisfy them.

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