The B S Yeddyurappa-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in Karnataka is under tremendous pressure to ensure that the government stays in power for a full term. As such, bypolls for the 17 seats that were to be held on October 21, 2019 were crucial for the government. However the Election Commission has decided to postpone the bypolls in the state. As many media reports have noted, the ruling BJP is taking it as a breather.
Fifteen MLAs of the former Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) coalition government had resigned and resulting in the toppling of the government led by H D Kumaraswamy. These MLAs’ resignations were accepted by then Speaker Ramesh Kumar, following which they were disqualified. This meant that these ministers cannot contest in bypolls. However, the Speaker’s decision was challenged in the Supreme Court by the disqualified ministers. On Thursday, an SC bench comprising Justices Sanjiv Khanna and Krishna Murari said it would hear the complete arguments at length and deferred the case. “Then I will ask the Election Commission to defer it (by-polls) for some time," said senior counsel Rakesh Dwivedi, representing EC. The EC clarified that the polls will be eventually held within the stipulated period: six months from the time the seats fell vacant, reported the Livemint. The question, whether they can contest the elections, will be answered by the Supreme Court before the bypolls.
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This move of the EC comes as a breather for the BJP as there exists a series of differences within the government. Many within the government are unhappy about giving tickets to the rebels. Apart from this, Yeddyurappa is also being heavily criticised for the way his government is handling the rehabilitation program for flood victims. His government is also being questioned about its failure to attend to the immediate requirements and demands of the flood infected areas. Apart from this, Yeddyurappa is also challenged by the fact that eight of the seats going for by polls are in the southern part of the state and they have historically been strongholds of Congress and JD(S). BJP is worried as it has never been present in these regions, neither politically nor ideologically.
The BJP government now has 104 MLAs plus an independent offering outside support. With the results to the 15 bypolls, the total house strength will be 223. So, the BJP needs to win at least seven seats in the bypolls to have a majority. However, now that the EC has deferred the by polls, the right wing party has got sometime to deal with these differences. Even though the Congress has welcomed this move of the EC, the JD(S) has alleged that the move has been made to favour the BJP and EC was behaving undemocratically.
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As Sandeep Shastri writes in NewsClick, “The collapse of the Congress-JDS coalition government headed by HD Kumaraswamy was imminent for quite some time. An alliance that had come together to keep the BJP out of power on the one hand, and enjoy the benefits of power on the other, was bound to crumble.”
“The internal bickering within the alliance was exploited to the hilt by the BJP. The resignations of the Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) of the ruling alliance virtually signalled the beginning of the countdown to the resignation of the Kumaraswamy government,” wrote Shastri. However, it should be noted that similar internal bickering has already started within this current BJP government. It all began with the cabinet formation by Yeddyurappa in the beginning of August. The MLAs who did not make it to the cabinet were unhappy with the government. Now, the question that has unsettled the government is, what is to be done with the rebel MLAs from the former Congress-JD(S) coalition government. Those leaders of the BJP who lost to these MLAs in the 2018 polls are unhappy that they are being sidelined, and that their loyalty to the party has so far not been recognised, as per a report by News 18.
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All of this will depend on the Supreme Court’s ruling. If the court upholds the speaker’s decision to disqualify the legislators, then the Yeddyurappa government would have a precarious majority. On the other hand, if the court upholds the legislators’ resignations, then Yeddyurappa would have only a slightly bigger majority, which may not be enough to offer stability, observes a report in the Livemint. As Shastri notes, “In the past three decades, whenever Karnataka has had an Assembly with no clear majority for a single party (this has happened in 2004, 2008 and 2018), one has seen short-lived governments, political poll-vaults by independent legislators and resignations by MLAs who decide to switch sides.”