Karnataka MLAs poaching row: BJP's 'Operation Lotus' fails to bloom, but threat to Congress-JDS coalition persists
State BJP president BS Yeddyurappa is keeping his hopes up of ousting the government so that he can replace Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy
The Congress decided to keep its MLAs in safe custody
The four abstentions sent fresh jitters through the Congress camp
As the last line of Margaret Mitchell's Gone With The Wind goes: After all, tomorrow is another day.
It seems the obituary was written far too prematurely for the BJP’s so-called 'Operation Lotus' to dislodge the Congress and Janata Dal (Secular) coalition government in Karnataka. Even as the BJP extended the confinement of its MLAs in Gurugram by a day or two, the Congress on Friday night quarantined its legislators in a plush Bengaluru resort. The Congress decided to keep its MLAs in safe custody after four legislators didn’t show up at the legislature party meet earlier Friday. The four abstentions are too few to pose an immediate threat to the coalition government, but enough to send fresh jitters through the Congress camp, considering the alliance’s thin margin.
Before the crisis began, Congress and JD(S) had a strength of 118 members in an Assembly of 224 (against BJP’s 104), while the mark of simple majority stands at 113. Of the four who didn’t show up, one said he was “too sick” to make it, and another claimed he was busy with a court appearance. Two Independents supporting the government seem to be perched — rather conveniently — on the fence. State BJP president BS Yeddyurappa is keeping his hopes up of ousting the government so that he can replace Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy of the JD(S), with the silent approval from his central leaders, who believe that grabbing power in Karnataka might give BJP an edge in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.
On the face of it, it seems the BJP has a tough task to get the numbers it needs. Even if the four MLAs who gave the Congress meeting a miss continue their defiance, at least nine more must desert the party to destabilise the government. This will lower the target of a simple majority in the Assembly to a level that's easier for thr BJP to reach. But what keeps Yeddyurappa's hope alive is that the mess in the Congress of its own making is serious enough to make more dissidents vulnerable to the allurements that the BJP is dangling before them.
Yet, the BJP can hardly claim the moral high ground in this sordid drama. The saffron party is as scrupulous as the burglar saying he tried to empty a house because the family was busy squabbling. It's too early to declare that the government is safe or is about to fall. With each side guarding its flock to stave off poaching by the other, the only thing certain at this point is that the curtains haven't fallen on the nataka in Karnataka.
Karnataka’s four wars
In the normal circumstances of an Opposition trying to topple a government, the ruling party proving its flock is intact — more or less —should end all confusion. But no one is saying that the mess in Karnataka fits into the normal template of political coups. That’s because this crisis is not a simple case of BJP fighting the Congress-JD(S) combine and trying to break its seven-month government. It’s not just one war: There are four wars being fought at the same time. The most obvious one is between BJP and the alliance. The second is the war between Yeddyurappa, who is in a hurry to take the seat of the chief minister, and his enemies within his party who want to leave the government alone and focus on winning the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. The third war is between JD(S) and Congress over who calls the shots in the government. And the fourth and the most terrible tussle is among the different factions of the Congress.
It is the Congress infighting that most threatens the longevity of the coalition government. At its very centre is Siddaramaiah, whose tenure as chief minister ended when the Assembly elections in May 2018 threw up a hung verdict. Left to his own devices, Siddaramaiah would have retired to the sidelines to lick his electoral wounds. But Congress president Rahul Gandhi hit upon the idea of manufacturing a miniature mahagathbandhan for Karnataka. Rahul thrust on his party an alliance with JD(S) to earn himself accolades as the only man capable of saving India from the "evil designs" of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his BJP.
But Siddaramaiah didn’t know what hit him when Kumaraswamy, the son of his one-time political godfather and arch enemy HD Deve Gowda, became chief minister. And G Parameshwara, a Dalit leader of Congress for whom Siddaramaiah has no particular love, became deputy chief minister. What further added to Siddaramaiah’s chagrin was that DK Shivakumar, an upper caste Vokkaliga leader of Congress and one of India’s richest politicians, began to flex his political and economic muscles and earned himself the nationally telecast title of "troubleshooter" by thwarting Yeddyurappa's attempt to steal Congress MLAs after the election.
When all this happened, Siddaramaiah embraced Deve Gowda and his son Kumaraswamy. But that was only for the TV cameras. Behind their backs, Siddaramaiah had other ideas. Just what those ideas might be, Karnataka is discovering only now. For his part, Rahul kept Siddaramaiah in good humour, keeping in mind his backward classes clout. Siddaramaiah declared himself on Twitter to be the party’s official “troubleshooter”.
But it was alleged that when there were no troubles for Siddaramaiah to ‘shoot’, he created them: so that he could be seen to be busy sorting them out. The latest trouble Siddaramaiah created was by appropriating for his acolytes ministerial berths in the 22 December cabinet expansion. But this became too much of a fire for even him to douse. That was when the original troubleshooter Shivakumar stepped in, and it became a question of who held the party in his hands. And as this went on, Deve Gowda and Kumaraswamy took the matter into their own hands. Gowda had a heart-to-heart talk with Rahul, while Kumaraswamy commissioned Congress leaders to talk to disgruntled MLAs.
This meant that the JD(S) chief minister himself became a third troubleshooter. This, for Siddaramaiah, was two troubleshooters too many. But dissidents fell in line after apparently being promised Lok Sabha tickets, ministerial berths and freedom to transfer officials as they pleased (in their constituencies). This was not to Siddaramaiah's liking. Then came Siddaramaiah's move to call the meeting of the legislature party — as its leader — to tell Kumaraswamy who controlled the fate of his government. Which was not to Kumaraswamy's liking.
In the middle of all this, Kumaraswamy bemoaned on Thursday that “it is my misfortune to be serving as the chief minister in a coalition government for the second time. Hence, I am unable to deliver programmes as expected by the people.” This might sound suspiciously like the melancholic outburst of a chief minister beleaguered by enemies out to topple him, but it was an adroit way of telling the world —particularly Rahul — that the crisis has the Congress hand written all over it.
That’s where matters stand today. But as the last line of Margaret Mitchell's Gone With The Wind goes: After all, tomorrow is another day.
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