Karnataka’s notoriously unstable coalition government has been hanging in mid-air for far too long to not fall at some point. That flashpoint seems to be coming up pretty soon with as many as 13 MLAs of the Congress and Janata Dal (Secular) resigning from the Assembly — 11 on Saturday and two earlier.
If the coalition regime does finally fall, Karnataka may have an alternative government by the BJP perhaps, after the party moves a successful no-confidence motion in the Assembly. Dissolution of the Assembly and fresh mid-term elections appear unlikely at this point, even if Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy of the JD(S) recommends these just to spite the BJP.
For one thing, the BJP-appointed state governor and the BJP-run government at the Centre would be averse to a mid-term poll or even President’s rule, if the party could rustle up a stable alternative. And all other parties are also averse to another poll, just 13 months after the last Assembly election and only two months after the Lok Sabha election.
But will the government fall? The government has been in a permanent state of “falling” without actually falling so far. All we know now is one thing: it won’t fall in a single heap. It will fall slowly brick by brick and that will only prolong what has now come to be known as "Karnataka’s nataka". It will, however, extend the agony of Kumaraswamy, who has been expecting the government’s demise almost from the very day it was born, with former chief minister Siddaramaiah covertly backing dissidents.
Siddaramaiah as CM?
The Congress may make a last-ditch effort to propose Siddaramaiah as the chief minister to placate at least some dissidents who support him. But this is unlikely to be acceptable to Kumaraswamy and his father and former prime minister HD Deve Gowda, who can’t see eye to eye with Siddaramaiah. If such a proposal is made, at least a section of JD(S) may dump Congress and back a BJP government.
The final phase of the snail-paced, creepy-crawly execution of a death sentence of the coalition government began on 1 July, when two Congress MLAs resigned, though their resignations are yet to be accepted by Assembly speaker Ramesh Kumar who is playing his own hide-and-seek with dissidents. However, that wasn’t enough for the government to fall. Then another 11 MLAs of the Congress and JD(S) quit on Saturday. But even that won’t be enough. So expect a few more to follow suit, unless the exodus is stemmed, which appears unlikely at this juncture.
The half-way, simple-majority mark in the 224-member Karnataka for a party or parties to form a government is 113. When the resignations of the 13 MLAs are accepted, the coalition’s strength will come down from 118 to 105 (Congress – 69, JD(S) – 34, BSP – 1, Independent – 1). The BJP’s current strength in the Assembly too is 105. But this equation will worsen for the coalition, if more legislators resign, which they might.
‘R and R’ technique
The dissidents and the BJP, working in close coordination, are adopting the time-tested ‘R and R’ or ‘resign and reduce’ technique to topple the government without falling foul of the anti-defection law. As part of this BJP-patented system, ruling members neither violate a whip of their party nor join another party. They simply resign as MLAs, which reduces the effective strength of the Assembly and the half-way, majority mark.
And once a new government takes over, exploiting the reduced half-way mark, by-elections are held to the Assembly constituencies vacated by the erstwhile ruling members. They contest these by-elections on BJP tickets. Once the by-polls are over, the Assembly’s effective strength goes up again. For this strategy to work, the BJP must win most of the newly filled seats.
In Karnataka now, the resignations of 13 MLAs, apart from bringing down the coalition’s tally to 105, reduces the strength of the House to 211 and the magic, half-way number drops from 113 to 106. The BJP, with 105 members now, will not only try to get the lone BSP member on its side but will also hope for resignations by enough Legislators for it to form an alternative government with a safe margin. The party is aware that not all dissidents may win the seats in the by-elections and support it.
In 2008, the BJP employed R and R, giving it the name “Operation Lotus”, which sounds more like the code for a covert operation by an armed force with a creative general. But the BJP took recourse to it to pad up its strength which fell short of the half-way mark in that year’s Assembly election. However, BS Yeddyurappa, who became the chief minister, had to quit over corruption charges after three years and two months.
After the 2018 Assembly poll, which again saw the BJP fall short of a majority, Yeddyurappa took oath as the chief minister being the leader of the single largest party, but his hopes of mustering support with 'Operation Lotus-2' failed miserably. His new term as the chief minister lasted just six days before the coalition took over. Since then, the operation has been put to work in fits and starts several times. But the coalition’s trouble-shooters aborted BJP’s attempts with counter-offers of money and positions to potential defectors.
For the record, the coalition leaders blame the BJP for their plight. But nobody doubts that at the root of all this mess lies disgruntlement over sharing of power and positions within Congress and JD(S) and between the two parties. On its part, the BJP used the coalition’s internal problems to the hilt.
The BJP’s recent sweep of the Lok Sabha poll in Karnataka with 25 of the state’s 28 seats boosted the party’s morale enough to try 'Operation Lotus-3' for the last time. But the party and the dissidents put it on hold till the presentation of the Union budget and chose to strike when Kumaraswamy, as well as state Congress chief Dinesh Gundu Rao, were out of the country.
Updated Date: Jul 07, 2019 17:31:09 IST