The Congress and the Janata Dal Secular (JDS) coalition government in Karnataka has become a stage for political drama. Is the coalition government actually in trouble? The answer to this much sensationalised question by the national media is- misunderstandings and miscommunications might have transpired within the coalition. However, according to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has been eagerly waiting to witness the government’s collapse ever since it was formed, this collapse is imminent.
Here is an account of what is happening within the coalition government, and what the BJP’s baseless allegations of an unstable government in the state say about its desperation.
On January 27, former Chief Minister Siddaramaiah while addressing a gathering during the inauguration of Kanaka Bhavan in Bengaluru, reflected on his losses in Badami and Chamundeshwari constituencies in the last elections. According to a New Indian Express report, he accused his own party members of jealousy and accused them for his loss.
In the same event, the Bangalore Development Authority (BDA) chairman S T Somashekhar criticised the coalition government-led by H D Kumaraswamy. Backward Classes (BC) Welfare Minister Puttaranga Shetty remarked that for the Congress, Siddaramaiah remains the CM. Thus, the event ended up inaugurating a series of comments by the Congress ministers, bashing the coalition government.
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Speaking with ANI, the CM H D Kumaraswamy, said, “The Congress MLAs are not my responsibility and the Congress leaders should make sure their MLAs don’t cross the line. If they don’t want me, I am ready to step down.” This statement of the CM was enough for the media to write stories and flash news on the channels about the collapse of the coalition.
The Deputy Chief Minister G Parameshwara, from Congress, remarking on the controversy said, “Siddaramaiah has been the best chief minister,” and clarified that it was Shetty’s personal opinion and was not shared by the other MLAs. He further clarified that the Congress accepts Kumaraswamy as the CM.
State Congress President, Dinesh Gundu Rao on January 28, 2019, tweeted, “Any act of indiscipline by way of comments or behaviour will not be tolerated and discipline action will be initiated. Our coalition with the JDS is to take on the communal forces and unseat the anti-democratic forces ruling this country, not to indulge in petty politicking.” Somashekhar has, however, apologised to the CM for his remarks.
The Clash Within the Coalition
In the second week of January, the local and the national media was alerted of three Congress MLAs - Anand Singh, B Nagendra and Ramesh Jarkiholi- missing. It was reported that these MLAs were seen in a resort in Mumbai and unhappy with the coalition government, have been in touch with the BJP. Even though the Congress seemed to be panic stricken trying to stop defections, later, they debunked the possibility of defection.
Since the formation of the government, there have been various camps within the Congress. These camps are headed by some of the powerful leaders like Jarkiholi, MTB Nagaraj and K Sudhakar. Before the cabinet expansion in December, 16 MLAs were not happy because they were not given a place in the cabinet. In the cabinet expansion, the government gave them posts within the cabinet and also positions in various corporations to the unhappy MLAs. The four MLAs who are said to be in Mumbai are the ones who were not given any posts.
The Desperate BJP
On May 23, 2018, H D Kumaraswamy of the JDS) swore in as the Chief Minister of the JD(S)-Congress coalition government in Karnataka. The state assembly elections had been a battle field for the Congress, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the JD(S). For the Congress, the state was one of its chances to retain its presence in the national politics, while for the BJP, it was a chance to enter the politics in the southern part of the country. Amid this, the local Janata Dal (Secular) [JDS] strived to come back to power.
However, in the polls held for the total of 222 out of 224 assembly seats, none of these parties could cross the magic number of 111. BJP emerged as the single largest party by winning 104 seats, the Congress in 78 seats and the JD(S) in 36 seats. The Congress and the JD(S), however, came together in a post-poll coalition, thus, making it to a total of 114 seats. Meanwhile, the governor Vajubhai Vala, not bothered with the protocol, had invited B S Yeddyurappa of BJP to form the government and had given a 15 days long period for the BJP to prove its majority.
This was unusual. As noted earlier, none of the parties, including the ‘single largest party’ BJP had a clear majority. Even though the Congress and JDS post-poll alliance had the majority, they were not invited by the governor to form the government. Following the governor’s discretion in similar situations in Goa and Manipur in 2017 and Meghalaya in 2018, Vala’s decision to invite the BJP to form the government and give it 15 days for proving the majority gave rise to many suspicions. It is against this backdrop that the Congress-JDS had approached the Supreme Court but the apex court did not stay the formation of the government.
The Congress and the JD(S) were forced to hide their own MLAs in resorts in the outskirts of the city to save their elected representative from being bought over by the saffron party. The BJP tried hard to buy the elected MLAs in those 15 days. Even though Yeddyurappa went ahead and swore in as the CM, the BJP could not stand the test of confidence in the house. Following this, the coalition won the vote of confidence and formed the government.
Given the pre-poll campaigns of the Congress and the JDS, both of which campaigned as rival parties, the coalition did come as a surprise. But as Rao said on Monday, the parties had stated that the coalition was aimed at preventing the communal BJP from forming the government. The events that followed the declaration of results had made the desire of the BJP to pull Karnataka as a saffron state obvious, and thus their desperation to form the government in the state.
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The Present Situation
It has been seven months since the coalition government was formed. The BJP is not ready to give up. It seems like the party has decided to disrupt the functioning of the government, either by not furnishing the central government financial aid to the state government projects or by attempting to poach the MLAs from the Congress or JD(S). According to a report in The Times of India, six of the Congress MLAs are expected to resign before February 8, and these MLAs have been offered 20 to 60 crore to join BJP. The BJP needs at least 14 MLAs to form a government, and aims at making 14 of them resign.
To reassure themselves that their MLAs are with them, the Congress called for a Congress Legislature Party (CLP) meeting on January 17, 2019. According to a report in the Economic Times, except for Jarkiholi, Mahesh Kumatahalli, B Nagendra, and Dr Umesh Jadhav, all the MLAs attended the meeting. Jadhav had written to Siddaramaiah informing him about his health and Nagendra had a court hearing. It has also been reported that senior Congress leaders, Dinesh Gundu Rao, KC Venugopal and Siddaramaiah, held one-on-one meetings with the unhappy MLAs and discussed their demands.
The defeat of BJP in the state by-elections further showed the decline of its base in the state. By-elections were held in three Lok Sabha seats and two Assembly seats on November 3, 2018. The Lok Sabha seats were contested for in Bellary, Shimoga and Mandya, and the Assembly seats in Jamkhandi and Ramanagara. The contest was mainly between the ruling Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) coalition and the BJP. The former won four out of these five seats, while BJP could win only Shimoga. So now the party is set to use “other” means to establish itself.
Amid the poaching allegations, the BJP, however, has shifted its ministers to a hotel in Haryana. This is the sorry state of the politics in the state of Karnataka. On one hand, the BJP has assumed impunity in using money to come to power and on the other, the coalition that was formed with an aim to stand against the saffron party and its agenda of saffronisation is engulfed in its own petty politics.
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