"The game is not over," Karnataka's home minister MB Patil declared a couple of days ago. "The game has just begun," he added with a menacing smile, in case you didn’t hear him the first time.
The minister was not wide of the mark. Apart from being far from over, the horrid political upheaval in Karnataka has turned into a game that is competing with the ICC World Cup matches for live TV viewers in the state. The Congress and Janata Dal (Secular) are playing to keep their coalition government and the BJP, to dislodge it.
With 18 dissidents tearing the government apart, both sides are looking for a sort of Duckworth–Lewis formula: The number of MLAs to win over to achieve their respective goals. Suspense in the edge-of-the-seat political thriller over whether the government will survive is deepening by the hour.
And unlike cricket, politics has no umpires, so forget rules if you are looking for any. To call it horse-trading is an affront to the whole equine breed. Look at the way the entire lot of ministers of both coalition partners have resigned. This is to facilitate a wholesale reconstitution of the ministry to "accommodate" — as former chief minister Siddaramaiah put it — the dissidents. On its part, the BJP has virtually corralled most of the dissidents in a Mumbai hotel, has presumably made its own offers to them and has allegedly tried to stop the coalition's chief troubleshooter DK Shivakumar from even meeting them.
The only rule of the game that could have stopped the tragicomedy is the anti-defection law, but the dissidents circumvented it by resigning from the Assembly, instead of quitting their respective parties and defecting to the BJP.
The resignations submitted by the Assembly members of the Congress and JD(S) and two Independents on 1, 6, 8, 9 and 10 July add up to 18. When Assembly Speaker Ramesh Kumar formally accepts these resignations, the coalition’s strength plunges from 118 to 100 in the House with 224 members with the halfway, majority mark being 113. With the support of two Independents (they have not quit the Assembly), BJP's support goes up to 107. The 16 others who resigned — 13 of the Congress and three of JD(S) — can’t support the BJP without being disqualified under the anti-defection law. But their resignations from the Assembly reduces the Assembly’s effective strength to 208 and the half-way majority mark to 105. The BJP has reached that number.
The Speaker hasn't accepted the resignations so far on what appear to be valid grounds: That the members left the letters in his office instead of submitting them to him personally and that eight of them were not written in prescribed format. These technical flaws come in handy for the Congress to buy time and make a go at getting at least some of the dissidents to withdraw their resignations. The last word on this will come from the Supreme Court, which may hear the MLAs' complaint against the Speaker's indecision on Thursday.
Most of the renegades claim they are prepared to personally submit resignations once again to the Speaker in the prescribed form. And despite the cabinet berths being dangled before them, they seem firm in sticking to their guns.
Dissidents stick to guns
Rahul Gandhi, who has resigned as the Congress president, is apparently refusing to have anything to do with the Karnataka crisis, even though he was credited with the creation of the alliance to keep the BJP out of power last year. Like a queen despatching a messenger of peace, Sonia Gandhi has sent party leader Ghulam Nabi Azad to tidy up the mess, but what makes his job nearly impossible is that the dissidents are not a homogeneous lot with common grievances. The reasons they have rebelled include, but are not limited to:
- They were denied ministerial posts;
- Some are supporters of Siddaramaiah, a known trouble-maker for the coalition, although there is nothing to either refute or confirm that he is egging them on to rebel now;
- Most rebels sense that the coalition is a sinking ship and the BJP offers greener pastures that will protect their political and business interests;
- Some JD(S) members are furious with the way HD Kumaraswamy and his father Deve Gowda run the party like a family business;
- Some Congress members complain of Siddaramaiah's alleged high-handedness, while some resigned, saying their constituencies were denied development funds by JD(S) ministers.
Why Kumaraswamy must quit
The reason why most rebels see no point in returning to the coalition is that even if the government survives, it will be as stable as a boat with a broken bottom. That's also precisely the reason why the Congress and the JD(S) must stop protecting their government by dubious means. Dropping some current ministers and replacing them with a few rebels will only produce a new set of dissidents.
It's in the longer-term interests of the Congress and JD(S) to let go of their government and blame BJP for its collapse, in which case they stand at least a small chance of gaining sympathy from voters in a future election. What stands to ethical reasoning and practical wisdom is that Kumaraswamy must submit his resignation and recommend the dissolution of the Assembly and fresh elections. After a brief spell of President's Rule, Karnataka could go to polls perhaps along with Maharashtra where elections are due in three months.
It's this very greed for power on the part of the Congress and JD(S) and their open ding-dong battles that cost the two parties dearly in the recent Lok Sabha Election in Karnataka. The parties will have even fewer prospects of success if they persist with power games and don't stop enacting the ugly drama to safeguard the government.
BJP must stop monkey-tricks
The naked hunger for power on the part of some local BJP leaders is also at the root of the party's monkey-tricks to come to power via the backdoor. It must stop hobnobbing with dissidents and desist from tempting them to switch sides. The BJP can't be unaware that any government it might form would be just as unstable as the one it is helping the rebels dislodge.
Instead of trying to form a government either immediately or after a spell of President’s Rule accompanied by the Assembly's suspended animation, the BJP too must opt for mid-term elections in its own better interests and for a clean public image. The BJP must also take note of the silent protests brewing in its own ranks over the possible induction of some Congress-JD(S) members with dubious records.
Above all, the people of Karnataka must be spared the ordeal of this brazen trading of MLAs, and it's in their best interests that the state must go to polls to get a government that governs instead of saving itself all the time.
The author tweets @sprasadindia
Updated Date: Jul 10, 2019 17:59:56 IST