It has been a race against time insofar as the post-election developments in Karnataka is concerned.
As it appears, a few hours after BS Yedyurappa having been sworn in as chief minister of the state, the BJP seems banking only on the party being in power at the Centre and, thus wielding the clout of the office of the governor against the Congress' rapid speed action.
A role reversal, so to say; the Congress seems to have given up the luxury of sleeping when others are at work and, thus make sure that Goa and Manipur were lessons to learn in not letting a slip between the cup and the lip.
Well, it could be that controlling the reins of the state administration in Karnataka is so important for both the Congress and the BJP. It, probably, is that fighting the general elections, due in 2019 (or even earlier as some say) is going to cost a lot of money and Karnataka is where it could come from.
The Kolar Gold Fields have gone dry, but money may come from other mines too. Even though the Supreme Court declared one of the mining barons of Bellary out-of-bounds from the region, he was held in high esteem by the BJP. Hence, Karnataka is important and not just the 21st state to capture, it seems.
The developments in the couple of days after May 15 are significant for a few reasons other than the sheer drama and the absurdities around. They have thrown open the possibilities of a grand alliance against the BJP-led NDA ahead of general elections, and apart from this raised a few questions on whether the constitutional scheme of things are going on a path similar to where it was led to on the night of June 25, 1975.
Let me answer the first possibility.
Attempts to make an alliance or loose arrangements had begun even before Karnataka went to polls. Mamata Banerjee meeting the TRS leader, flying over to Mumbai and then reaching out to Sonia Gandhi were one such moves.
The CPI(M), amending its political resolution to favour understandings and arrangements with the Congress was another, and the most significant of all being the SP-BSP understanding to not engage in internecine fights and instead work to defeat the BJP in Gorakhpur and Phulpur and persisting with that in Khairana too.
The results of the Karnataka elections and the speed at which the Congress and the Janata Dal (S) decided to get together clearly show that all those who are not with the BJP are now willing to get together, because all seem to have realised that their own survival is at stake.
There are reports, and even taking them with a pinch of salt, that Mayawati did influence former prime minister, HD Deve Gowda to engage with the Congress, and it is a fact that such an engagement took place within a few minutes in all and a post-poll alliance sealed. The leaders of the two parties walked into the Raj Bhawan in Bengaluru to stake claims long before sunset the same day the results came in.
A Throw Back to 1996
Contrast this with the summer of 1996 in New Delhi, 22 years ago, witnessed a post-poll coalition taking shape and involving some who are also around now. But the pace of events were too slow and boring to journalists. Those were, fortunately, days when TV had not become 24 X 7 and social media was not even heard of.
Leaders of the non-BJP opposition consumed at least a couple of weeks, and met at one guest house or another of the various state governments they controlled then — Andhra Pradesh and Bihar Bhawans (The two states were yet to be bifurcated then) Karnataka House where the then state chief minister HD Deve Gowda had set up his base and the Tamil Nadu House (where the chief minister elect, M Karunanidhi had moved into) — hosted meetings where the leaders could not identify who their prime minister elect was.
One day they suggested Jyoti Basu, the then chief minister of West Bengal, become prime minister. His party, the CPI(M), told that it cannot happen. Then they spent another couple of days simply talking among themselves and one afternoon, as if a bolt from the blue, someone shouted Deve Gowda is the PM elect.
Gowda then waited for a letter of support from the then Congress president (and prime minister under whom the Congress lost heavily in 1996) that did not come. On May 15, 1996, then president, SD Sharma, invited Atal Bihari Vajpayee to be sworn in the day after. Gowda, the Congress and everyone around protested, but Vajpayee was sworn in.
MPs from Uttar Pradesh and some other states were held at the Andhra Pradesh Bhawan with Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu assuring that poachers will be dealt with.
Mulayam Singh Yadav’s MPs ended up relishing cuisine from the south of India and the United Front remained intact to elect the Congress party’s PA Sangma as the Lok Sabha speaker. Sangma was unanimously elected Speaker of the Lok Sabha on May 23, 1996.
It was evident, that day, that Vajpayee was not going to survive the confidence vote, scheduled for May 29. Vajpayee did not press for a vote and told the House, through the speaker, that he was going to the Rashtrapathi Bhawan to submit his resignation. He resigned after a long debate and Gowda was sworn in as prime minister in just a couple of days.
Well. It now appears that we have come a long way. Karnataka Governor, Vajubhai Vala was not having to grope in the dark as did the then president, SD Sharma. He was informed, as early as before sunset on May 15, 2018 that HD Kumarasamy commanded support of 116 MLAs and a little later by Yedyurappa that he had 104 MLAs with him — this was even before the Election Commission declared the results formally.
Even while the governor waited, the media got busy reporting cases of MLAs gone ‘missing’. The BJP leaders who had announced their capture of Karnataka (thankfully not in the same way as erstwhile kings did in the past by setting fire to the captured kingdoms or in the way the BJP did in Tripura by pulling down statues) ended up calling the Congress-JD(S) agreement amoral.
The Congress, meanwhile, seem to have decided against taking any chances. Abhishek Manu Singhvi had the draft Writ Petition ready during the day on May 16 and the governor’s late night invite to Yeddyurappa to be sworn in, violating the law as laid down by the Supreme Court in the Rameshwar Prasad case of 2006, shows that the Congress leadership knew what was cooking in the Raj Bhawan in Bengaluru.
The party, once again, acted with such speed and contrast this with May 1996. A mid-night knock at the portals of justice and the swearing in allowed with conditions. For the first time in our short history indeed.
What lies next can be partly a presumption and partly conditioned by political convictions.
In the event of any of these, the assembly will be called to meet, the House will have to elect the speaker (the first business after the members are sworn in) and the Congress-JD(S) coalition fields its own candidate for the chair and either he/she is elected unanimously (as it happened in 1996 in the Lok Sabha with Sangma) or he/she defeats the BJP candidate in that.
This will ensure that the Congress-JD(S) MLAs are not poached by the BJP because the Assembly speaker will then be able to ‘deal’ with such renegades in accordance with the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution.
Well, in case the BJP manages to get its own speaker elected, which is possible only if Congress-JD(S) MLAs defect by then, the game is up insofar as Karnataka is concerned.
The field, however, is open even then for a realignment before May 2019. All that will be matter is whoever commands the resources from the state where the Kolar Gold Fields used to have gold reserves until some years ago. The gold reserves may have depleted. But mother earth, in Karnataka, has a lot more to give to those who are in game to exploit.
In any case, as of now, on May 18, 2018, we are closer to where India was taken to a couple of hours before midnight on June 25/26, 1975.
Professor V Krishna Ananth teaches History at the School of Liberal Arts and Basic Sciences at the SRM University – AP, Amaravati.
First Published: IST