Irrespective of the results of the no-confidence motion moved in the Karnataka assembly on July 18, democracy and democratic traditions have received a strong knock in this southern state. With a dozen MLAs of the ruling Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular) disappearing from Bengaluru -- after resigning -- to a five-star hotel in Mumbai where they are holed up for a fortnight have made Karnataka denizens wonder whether they are staying in a land where democracy prevails or not.
“They must have resigned on their own but the impression one gets is that they are kind of held hostage at the hotel and not allowed to come out and communicate with whom so ever they want. Is this democracy?” asks SN Rao, a 55-year-old denizen of Bengaluru. Similar views are expressed by many other residents of the city. “Caste affiliations play a strong role in politics in Karnataka yet many are finding things to be a little strange this time,” says T Ramappa, former secretary of Federation of Karnataka Chambers of Industry and Commerce.
The funny thing is that this is not the first time this sort of thing has occurred in Karnataka. The last assembly elections in May 2018 resulted in a hung house with BJP emerging top with 104 seats in a house of 224. But the BJP led by BS Yeddyurappa could form a government only for two days. This was because Congress with 88 seats and Janata Dal (S) with 38 seats combined to outnumber the saffron party and form a government. BJP, keenly eyeing an entry in south India was disappointed. But ruling combine gave them an opportunity soon with Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy sidelining his partner Congress in multiple ways. Formidable Congress nominees like former home minister Ramalinga Reddy and former transport minister Roshan Baig were kept out of the ministry leading to angst. Other Congress MLAs also felt sidelined and upset that ‘the development works’ that they wanted were not been okayed by the chief minister. Fanning this disconcert was former Congress chief minister Siddaramaiah, who himself was smarting at his exclusion from the top job. To cap it all, the Congress bosses in Delhi had little clue and less interest in settling matters in Karnataka.
Things came to a head after the latest Lok Sabha polls a few months ago which resulted in the rout of both the Congress and Janata Dal (S) in the state. Both of them could get one seat each while BJP garnered 26 of the total 28 seats. Now as BJP was mulling how to upturn the alliance government in Karnataka, opportunity presented itself when Congress chief Rahul Gandhi resigned. “It resulted in confusion in the ranks of Congressmen. Many of them began to think that their future was not safe in this situation. And unhappy as they were with Kumaraswamy, it only required only a little prodding by the BJP for many Congress MLAs to quit the grand old party,” confides a senior Congress leader in Delhi.
Well-placed sources suggest that although Yeddyurappa is keen that the BJP form a government immediately, Modi and Amit Shah are not so keen. Yeddy, as he is popularly known, is raring to sit in the chief minister’s ‘gaddi’ because at 76 he already past the 75 years of age mandated by BJP as the maximum age for occupying a public office. Not yet implemented strictly by the party, Yeddy does not want to take a chance. Yeddy, however, has total control over Lingayat votes which have traditionally backed the BJP and parachuted the party to power. The understanding in BJP circles in that the Modi-Shah duo does not want such a powerful man as chief minister and would rather settle for a less prominent politician like Devendra Fadnavis in Maharashtra who was installed to prevent RSS favourite Nitin Gadkari from ruling the roost in Mumbai. So given the patently unstable position will the ruling bosses in Delhi prefer a President’s Rule in Karnataka waiting for the party to consolidate its position in the state and rake in a clear majority next time on? This is the million dollar question. Meanwhile Governor Vajubhai Vala, who was chief minister Modi’s finance minister in Gujarat, can possibly hold the reins in the state. Let’s see.
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Kingshuk Nag is an author and a journalist.