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Mutually assured destruction in Karnataka: Not-so-internal rift between JD(S), Congress leaves no winners, only losers

  • The Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) alliance in Karnataka seems to have more than its share of stress and strain

  • From hawkish BJP to their internal politics, pressures on the post-election coalition are from multiple fronts

  • Making HDK the chief minister was no gesture of magnanimity, it was a pragmatic deal-making and now Siddaramaiah is unable to swallow it

Soap-opera-level drama is unfolding in the southern state of Karnataka and it is showing no signs of ending anytime soon. Congress win in Karnataka 2018 elections gave the party a new lease of political life but the party also scripted a future (for the state) with an unlikely coalition which is at the epicentre of the current political crisis in the state.

Two weeks ago when rebel Congress MLAs were rounded by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in a bid to topple the seven-month-old JD(S)-Congress government, the crisis deepened.

Remember last year's post-election drama in Karnataka involving the Congress, the JD(S) and the BJP? What ensued two weeks ago was Round 2 of the drama. Three influential Congress MLAs were found in a Mumbai hotel where a few BJP leaders were also camping.

Irrigation, Kannada and culture minister DK Shivakumar alleged that BJP was indulging in horsetrading. But he was confident that the BJP would not succeed.

Meanwhile, Sadananda Gowda, a BJP leader and former Karnataka chief minister, said the Congress should keep its house in order. He said the Congress wasn't able to keep its MLAs in Karnataka together and was "simply pin-pointing" at the BJP.

 Mutually assured destruction in Karnataka: Not-so-internal rift between JD(S), Congress leaves no winners, only losers

File image of Karnataka chief minister HD Kumaraswamy. PTI

Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy said the MLAs travelled to Mumbai after informing him, and that he was in constant touch with them. He also said he knew whom the BJP was trying to contact — and what was being offered. If they manage to crack the rocky coalition, the BJP will have a significant chance of getting the lead in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.

However, after troubleshooting mechanism of Congress went overboard to handle the crisis, a wider rift from within the government came to the forefront. Unnamed Congress and JD(S) leaders were quoted by several media reports as saying that the entire fiasco was fomented due to Congress' internal politics. Buoyant by internal squabble, the BJP accelerated its 'poach MLAs' plan and called it the 'Operation Lotus'.

Mutually Assured Destruction

In the 224-member Assembly, Congress has 80 MLAs and JD(S) has 37. One BSP MLA and two independents are also part of the coalition but they have withdrawn support to the government. The BJP, on the other hand, has 104 MLAs. For the government to collapse, BJP needs at least 11 MLAs from other parties to resign before it can stake claim to form the government.

If that should happen, the senior leadership of both the JD(S) (Kumaraswamy) and the Congress (Siddaramaiah) won't have anyone else but themselves to blame for it.

What is unfolding in Karnataka can be described as the mutually assured destruction. MAD is a doctrine of military strategy and national security policy in which a full-scale use of nuclear weapons by two or more opposing sides would cause the complete annihilation of both the attacker and the defender. It is based on the theory of deterrence, which holds that the threat of using strong weapons against the enemy prevents the enemy's use of those same weapons.

Siddaramaiah, the former Karnataka chief minister who holds considerable clout in the new coalition (he has unofficial license from the party leadership to take complete charge of the party's affairs in Karnataka) was unequivocally against the merger with JD(S) but swallowed the bitter pill in bid to keep BS Yeddyurappa and the BJP out. The strains have started to show as talks of seat sharing have begun ahead of Lok Sabha elections. The decision to make Kumaraswamy was not a magnanimous gesture, but a pragmatic deal. But now, Siddaramaiah clearly is having problems dealing with the situation.

The Karnataka government is fire-fighting on multiple fronts: The Opposition BJP believes that it was robbed of its mandate and is looking to win over some of the MLAs of the Congress to topple the government; Congress members, especially those owing allegiance to Siddaramaiah, who argue that the chief ministership should not have been handed over to the junior partner, the JD(S); and the leadership of the JD(S) that tries to assert itself within the alliance and expand the party's base at the Congress' expense.

What the two unhappy allies aren't realising that even though it is not an advantage BJP, this display of their disagreement will cost the Congress and the JD(S) dearly. The internal politics will force them to lose a crucial state months before the Lok Sabha elections.

Analysts have argued that the former chief minister is driving his own independent agenda and in a few instances has even bypassed the chief minister after which Kumaraswamy fired a scathing salvo at the Congress members and said that he is willing to step down if the party does not control its legislators from criticising its work. Unsettled issues like shared portfolios and internal criticism are forcing the coalition to crumble.

It has been an uneasy alliance from the very start, but in December after the cabinet reshuffle there was considerable discontent among the JD(S) ranks when several big names were left out of the expanded cabinet. JD(S) leaders have since claimed they had not been consulted before the appointments, further undermining the regional party’s role in governance, especially considering its seats were crucial in forming the ruling coalition.

The Congress has only six berths to fill. By releasing eight names, it has hinted that two of its ministers will be dropped. This is likely to fan discontent in party ranks, beginning with senior leader and former state home minister Ramalinga Reddy. His daughter and MLA Sowmya Reddy has lashed out at the party, calling the decision "unfortunate".

Kumaraswamy versus Siddaramaiah

Earlier in 2018, Kumaraswamy's remarks regarding his coalition partner unleashed a tirade of criticism. In May, 2018, the chief minister said that he was at the ‘mercy’ of the Congress. "The people of the state rejected me and our party... I had requested people to give me a mandate that prevents me from succumbing to any pressure other than you. But today, I am at the mercy of the Congress. I am not under the pressure of the 6.5 crore people of the state," Kumaraswamy said.

File image of Siddaramaiah. Twitter/@siddaramaiah

File image of Siddaramaiah. Twitter/@siddaramaiah

Later in July, Kumaraswamy said while his partymen are happy that their 'Anna or Thamma' (brother) has become the chief minister, "let me tell you that I am not. I am swallowing my pain, which is nothing more than poison... I’m not happy with the situation."

Once Kumaraswamy was done with his share of drama and display of his plight, it was Siddaramaiah's turn.

After the MLA poaching drama quelled certain Congress MLAs criticised the Kumaraswamy government by saying that no development work has taken place in the last seven months. Congress MLA ST Somashekar said, "It is seven months since the coalition government came to power, but development work has not yet taken off. Had Siddaramaiah got another five-year term, we would have seen real development." Siddaramaiah endorsed the comments and said that he would have completed the development work if he had got another term as chief minister.

That was the proverbial nail in the coffin or at least beginning of what a few people are calling a crumbling coalition. Analysts felt that a statement of one MLA which created such flutter in the ranks spoke volumes about the instability of the government. So far, it has only been whispered and speculated that Siddaramaiah is the man rocking the boat. Now, the rift is for everyone to see.

As argued by this article on Firstpost, the trouble wasn't simply that JD(S) had only half as many Assembly seats as Congress. The real problem, or at least a good part of it, is the fact that Kumaraswamy is the son of former prime minister HD Deve Gowda, Siddaramaiah's one-time mentor and current arch rival.

Sadananda Gowda said, "Siddaramaiah, who is pretending to be a peacemaker in the JD(S)-Congress coalition, has also been trying to destabilise the government. The current political drama has led to instability in state politics. People don't know what the chief minister is doing, and the development of the state is at stake. However, the situation is in favour of chief minister HD Kumaraswamy."

It won't be shocking if because of Siddaramaiah, BJP manages to cosy up with JD(S) (even though the parties are ideologically poles apart) and force a situation where Congress is kicked out of the government. However, it will not be easy for the BJP to just walk over and form the government with JD(S). Kumaraswamy and Congress came to power on the promise that they would keep "communal" BJP out of the state and that the coalition of Congress and regional parties could pose a formidable challenge to the BJP on the national level.

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Updated Date: Jan 30, 2019 14:48:15 IST