Not BJP attacks, but Congress infighting could topple coalition in Karnataka; alliance leaders in denial over rift

  • Siddaramaiah's discontent for the Congress-JD(S) alliance has been evident since the Karnataka Assembly elections in May 2018.

  • The former chief minister is also at loggerheads with Karnataka minister DK Shivakumar.

  • It is speculated that at the heart of the poaching row is that Congress MLAs are disgruntled over the rift in the coalition.

"The BJP was not the original instigator of the crisis," a minister said. "It only saw an opportunity and responded to the situation" — this statement by a Karnataka minister, as quoted by The Times of India, sums up the political crisis unravelling in the state.

The report quoted sources as saying that the allegation of poaching and the unrest in the state politics at present were a result of the power play between former Karnataka chief minister and water resources minister DK Shivakumar, who is believed to have played a significant role in stitching together the Congress-JD(S) alliance in the state.

Both strong and influential senior Congress leaders, the bitterness between them came to the fore in October, when Shivakumar had said it was a blunder to divide the religion, commenting on the recommendation to grant minority status to the Lingayat community in Karnataka. "Our government in Karnataka committed a major blunder... We the people in politics and in the government should never, ever lay hands on religion and caste. It was a crime committed by our government."

In response, Siddaramaiah had said every cabinet minister had been party to the decision on the Lingayat issue, indirectly questioning why  Shivakumar had not raised his concerns when the decision on minority status for Lingayats had been made.

 Not BJP attacks, but Congress infighting could topple coalition in Karnataka; alliance leaders in denial over rift

File image of former Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah. PTI

Not just the power tussle with Shivakumar, but Siddaramaiah's own discontent with the Congress-JD(S) tie-up since the Karnataka Assembly elections in May has also been at the heart of the supposed poaching row in the state. Siddaramaiah has made no effort to hide his hostility towards Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy, starting with criticising the JD(S) leader for presenting a full-fledged budget after assuming office to expressing doubts about how long the coalition government would survive in Karnataka.

"As the chairman of the coordination committee, Siddaramaiah is expected to be at the forefront to ensure that the JD(S)-Congress coalition government functions smoothly," The Times of India quoted a "senior Congress leader" as saying. "Unfortunately, he is only creating trouble by expressing doubts about the longevity of the government time and again.

Insiders are not alone in their opinion that the Grand Old Party had a hand in creating the mess that the state politics was in right now. Saying he didn't deny that the Congress was to blame, party leader and Deputy Chief Minister G Parameshwara said: "Naturally, some people who intend to join the cabinet or become ministers express their feelings in different ways whenever there is a cabinet expansion or an issue of a ministry. But after sometime, this feeling subsides and they realise that not all can become ministers. We also try to accommodate them in as many ways as possible."

Furthermore, reports say that the five Congress MLAs, who had been holed up at a hotel in Mumbai the whole week, will return to Bengaluru on Thursday. Even now, it's uncertain why the Congress legislators were in Mumbai to begin with. After the reports first emerged, Kumaraswamy had said three of them were there for personal reasons and that he was in touch with all of them. But Shivakumar, who was the first to bring up their Mumbai excursion, had claimed that the BJP was attempting to poach these Congress MLAs.

And then ensued all the poaching allegations between Congress-JD(S) and the BJP.

Kumaraswamy has appeared surprisingly calm amid the entire crisis, reiterating to reporters a number of times that the BJP was trying to destabilise the Karnatka government. But the BJP has vehemently denied all the poaching accusations, and in turn, accused the Congress-JD(S) unite of trying to lure the party's MLAs. So much so that the BJP has holed up 104 of its Karnataka's MLAs at a resort near Delhi since the party's national executive meeting on Saturday, in a bid to shield them from the Congress' alleged hunting tactics.

Firspost had earlier speculated that the discontent withing the Congress-JD(S) alliance had left these "missing" MLAs open to being poached by the BJP. But the fact remains that the reason for the MLAs going incommunicado in Mumbai is still unclear, no matter how many times Kumaraswamy says they were unreachable only for the media, not him.

The past is not blameless in causing this internal dispute in the Congress. The rivalry between Siddaramaiah and the JD(S) dates back to when Siddaramaiah was not just a leader of the party but also considered a chief lieutenant of former prime minister HD Deve Gowda. He had quit the party and jumped ship to the Congress only as Kumaraswamy began to get more prominence. The fact remains that the Congress had faith in him to lead the state and Deve Gowda didn't.

Siddaramaiah begrudgingly accepted Congress president Rahul Gandhi's decision to ally with the JD(S), though he made his displeasure evident when he refused to campaign for Kumaraswamy ahead of the bypoll to the Ramanagaram Assembly Constituency.

Add to the Congress infighting the rift between the party and its coalition partner, and it can be concluded that all is not well in the Karnataka government. Kumaraswamy and Congress leaders can cry themselves hoarse claiming that there was no stability, but at this moment, the state administration is less at risk of the BJP using its money and muscle power to poach rival MLAs and more at risk of falling apart due to its internal battles. With Congress general secretary KC Venugopal, who was given charge of the party's affairs in Karnataka, having largely been absent from the scene, it remains to be seen whether the party leadership from Delhi will step in to douse the simmering discontent within the party and also with the JD(S).

Updated Date: Jan 17, 2019 13:10:19 IST