After being Karnataka’s chief minister for two action-packed days, BJP's BS Yeddyurappa decided to hang his boots instead of facing a floor test on Saturday. It was like a batsman, facing a tough asking rate in the last overs, retiring hurt instead of taking the incoming ball.
Clearly, Narendra Modi decided that enough was enough. He told Yeddyurappa to call it quits, save BJP from further damage to its image caused by the messy things being done to form a government in Karnataka, and restore to the party the electoral glory it was crowned with in the 12 May assembly election.
When the results were out on 15 May, BJP was roundly applauded for winning the poll — well, almost winning it — and Congress was rebuked for losing it as badly as it did. But as BJP began to rustle up rival MLAs to form government, tables were turned: BJP began to get rebuke and Congress, a propaganda edge, if not sympathy. Modi knows when to start trouble and when to stop it, though he should have acted earlier than he did in Karnataka’s case.
For some time, the party has to put up with the embarrassment of Yeddyurappa turning his tail just when the bugle was blared for the final battle on the floor of the Karnataka Assembly.
You don't need to go to a Charan Singh of 1979 or an Atal Bihari Vajpayee of 1996 to look for precedents. Both of them quit before the trust votes they were expected to take. You just need to recall what Yeddyurappa himself did in 2007. His government had collapsed at that time after HD Kumaraswamy of Janata Dal (Secular) withdrew support to him. After being the chief minister for a week, he moved a confidence motion but announced his resignation halfway through the discussion on it.
Now, by withdrawing from the race, Yeddyurappa hasn't suddenly become a convert to Epictetian philosophy and developed a sudden aversion to the lure of power and the lucre of the bad, materialistic world. He quit because he was told his game was up. Instead of losing with a scrambled egg on face, he was told, it would be a mighty wonderful idea if he made a graceful exit.
Graceful exit? Really?
Having won 104 seats of the total of 224, while the Janata Dal (Secular) walked away with 38 and Congress with 78, it would have been daft on BJP’s part not to think of having a go at grabbing power when it was only inches from it.
But when the JD(S) and Congress joined hands, and when it began to look tough for BJP to form a government in an honourable fashion by the end of the day when results were out, the party should have walked away from the race in a truly elegant and magnanimous fashion. It could have claimed a moral victory even if it suffered a mathematical defeat and accumulated people’s sympathy as it prepares for the 2019 Lok Sabha poll.
But what BJP did instead was to misuse the governor’s office, which was what Congress had done — according to one count, about 50 times since Independence — extracting from him an invitation to Yeddyurappa to form government and a window of a fortnight to prove his majority.
And then came from the BJP horse-trading, an original invention of Congress. And then came the intervention from the Supreme Court, which ordered Yeddyurappa to prove his numbers in one day instead of 15. And then came the refusal of potential traitors in Congress and JD(S) to switch loyalty to BJP. Then came out damning audio tapes of Yeddyurappa, mining scamster Janardhana Reddy and others of BJP offering allurements to engineer defections.
Only then came Yeddyurappa’s philosophical repentance, political humility and some very statesman-like sacrifice. But this came three days late. But if it came earlier before the messy things were done and exposed, there would have been kudos from Karnataka’s people for Modi and is Karnataka-face, Yeddyurappa.
But it isn’t too late yet for BJP to mobilise sympathy for itself for what happened in the elections. It isn’t too late for BJP to be able to shrug off the abuse heaped on it in the last couple of days. All BJP needs to do at this juncture is to watch how the unseemly coalition of JD(S)-Congress works.
Tail wagging dog?
Yeddyurappa turned his tail, but now Congress is wagging its. There is a problem, however. It’s a case of tail wagging the dog. With 78 members, Congress has decided to play second fiddle to JD(S) which won 38 seats. Not everybody in Congress is thrilled by this surrender. And this isn’t the first time the two parties are forming a fragile, desperate coalition to keep BJP out of power.
When the 2004 assembly elections resulted in a hung assembly, the two parties got together, with Dharam Singh of Congress getting the chief minister’s job. A suave gentleman, Singh allowed Kumaraswamy to call the shots. It won’t take long for some of the Congress leaders try to extract their pounds of flesh for conceding the higher status to JD(S), disproportionate to its assembly strength.
To begin with, distribution of portfolios isn’t an easy thing even single party. It’s tougher in two parties. The coalition of Yeddyurappa and Kumaraswamy broke up in 2007 because of quarrels over cabinet berths.
So wait for the sequel to Karnataka’s political potboiler.
Author tweets @sprasadindia
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Updated Date: May 19, 2018 21:26:36 IST