31 Jul 2019

Back to power in Karnataka, the BJP once again gains a foothold in the south as the Congress cries foul


 The dramatic political crisis that played out in Karnataka for the best part of last month finally drew to a close with BJP state president B.S. Yediyurappa swearing in once again as Chief Minister in Bengaluru.

At around 6.30 in the evening, inside the Glass House of the lush lawns of Raj Bhavan, the Karnataka Governor Vajubhai Vala administered the oath of office and secrecy to the 75-year-old politician, with the State Chief Secretary T.M. Vijay Bhaskar helming the 10-minute event that commenced and ended with a rendition of the National Anthem.

Donning a white safari suite with a folded green shawl sitting on his shoulders, Yediyurappa took his chief ministerial oath for the fourth time in Kannada in the presence of dignitaries, top government officials, special invitees, family members, not to mention hundreds of BJP leaders and cadres, amid tight security.

Virtually everything about the event was pretty regular, except one thing: the conspicuous absence of Congress and Janata Dal-Secular (JD-S) leaders, including former chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy, Congress legislature party leader Siddaramaiah and KPCC president Dinesh Gundu Rao.

But that was hardly a surprise considering the extraordinary circumstances leading up to this event.

As many as 16 MLAs resigned from the 14-month-old Congress-JDS coalition over a mere span of 10 days last month. On the face of it, the MLAs – 13 from Congress and 3 from JDS – did so in protest against weak leadership and dissatisfactory development across the state. But most political analysts and the leaders of the two parties reckoned that there was much more than what met the eye.

Given the BJP had never quite digested the way it was pipped to the post in the Karnataka assembly elections by an opportunistic coalition of the Congress and JDS last year, which was evident in the way the saffron party had demanded Kumaraswamy’s resignation on multiple accounts and occasions, it was the prime suspect.

And when the BJP once again sought Kumaraswamy's resignation for losing majority in the Assembly after the rebels refused to withdraw their resignations and two Independents, who were ministers in his 34-member cabinet, also withdrew their support, those suspicions were all but confirmed.

In order to prove his government’s majority in the House, a defiant Kumaraswamy moved the confidence motion on July 18. A four-day marathon debate on the motion followed, featuring heated exchanges and acrimonious scenes in the House. But that was only delaying the inevitable.

On July 23, Kumaraswamy resigned as chief minister after losing the trust vote on the floor of the Karnataka Assembly. In the division of votes, 99 were for the motion moved by him and 105 against it. This was enough, because in the 225-member Assembly, 20 legislators (including the rebel MLAs) were absent for the floor test, reducing the House strength to 205, making 103 as the halfway mark for simple majority.

The Congress cried foul quite loudly after this happened. And the accusations were direct.

"Political morality and basic democratic values got defeated by the unscrupulous political horse-trading of the BJP in Karnataka," Congress General Secretary, Organisation, K.C. Venugopal said.

He alleged that the BJP carried out this political drama by offering huge amounts of black money and ministerial berths to MLAs to defect, as well as "misusing central agencies like Enforcement Directorate and Income Tax for black mailing and coercing MLAs".

He also declared that the party will hold nationwide protests against the "immoral, blatant and brazen political destabilisation" carried out by the BJP.

Senior Congress leader and former Union Minister Shashi Tharoor took a swipe at the BJP over the horse-trading suspicions saying the party that banned cattle auctions had conducted one successfully in Karnataka.

"The party that banned cattle auctions has successfully conducted one in Karnataka! My admiration for the courage and principle shown by D.K. Shivakumar and those Congress MLAs who were neither cajoled nor cudgelled into changing their allegiance. We shall overcome one day," Tharoor tweeted.

Outgoing Congress chief Rahul Gandhi and party General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi also pulled no punches as they blamed the BJP of unethical political practices.

"From its first day, the Cong-JD(S) alliance in Karnataka was a target for vested interests, both within and outside, who saw the alliance as a threat and an obstacle in their path to power. Their greed won today. Democracy, honesty and the people of Karnataka lost," Rahul Gandhi tweeted.

His sister Priyanka Gandhi soon joined in.

 "One day the BJP will discover that everything cannot be bought, everyone cannot be bullied and every lie is eventually exposed," she said in a series of tweets.

"Until then I suppose the citizens of our country will have to endure their unbridled corruption, the systematic dismantling of institutions that protect the people's interests and the weakening of a democracy that took decades of toil and sacrifice to build," she said in another tweet.

However, many political experts across the state and country also agreed that the Congress-JDS coalition, already suffering from internal bickering, had it coming anyway.

It was widely noted and concluded that the pre-poll agreement between the ruling allies to field joint candidates in the parliamentary polls made for the last straw as both blamed each other for their humiliating defeat.

"Though the Assembly poll result was a mandate against the Congress after five years of mediocre rule, its attempt to remain in power, piggy-riding on the JD-S has been its undoing, as it lost 20 of the 21 seats it contested in the general elections," said a political analyst.

"The Lok Sabha results unnerved the party leaders to realise that the longer it remains in the coalition government as a junior partner to the JD-S despite having 79 seats against 37 of its ally (JD-S), it will face a similar rout if mid-term polls for the 225-member Assembly are to be held sooner or later," the analyst added.

Another political observer pointed out that the failure of Congress leaders and cadres to work in tandem with their JDS counterparts also exposed the fragile and fractious relationship between the two parties that had been fighting against each other over the past 30 years in the state and parliamentary elections.

Whatever might have been the factors, one thing is for certain: Unless the Congress gets its act together from here on, it will continue to lose ground across the country and will find it increasingly difficult to regain it from a rampaging BJP.

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