Ten reasons why the Congress–JD(S) government finally collapsed in Karnataka | Analysis
Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy on Tuesday lost the trust vote in the Karnataka Assembly that had been put off by the ruling coalition for days. The political crisis was triggered by a string of resignations by lawmakers of the ruling Congress and Janata Dal Secular, reducing the 15-month-old rainbow coalition between two erstwhile rivals, to a minority. Here are the 10 reasons why the HD Kumaraswamy government has collapsed.
The May 2018 assembly elections threw up an inconclusive verdict. While the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) emerged as the single largest party with 104 seats, it was short of a simple majority by nine seats in the 224-member assembly (one additional member is nominated). The Congress with 78 seats (it won two more later in bypolls) and JD(S) with 37 seats decided to form an alliance to keep the BJP out of power. At the time, the Congress had its national compulsions – general elections were just a year away -- and the JD(S) that had been out of power for 10 years was more than willing. However the genesis of the current crisis lay in the indecisive verdict served by the Karnataka voter.
While the Congress and JD(S) both professed a ‘secular’ ideology, from Day One it was clear that the alliance was forced. The Congress is a pan-Karnataka party while the JD(S) has its base in the ‘Old Mysuru’ belt comprising 10 of the state’s 30 districts. Also, the Congress draws its vote base from across castes, regions and religions. The JD(S), on the other hand, is seen almost exclusively representing the interests of Vokkaligas, a dominant landowning caste.
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Congress general secretary in-charge of Karnataka, KC Venugopal, with the concurrence of the party high command, announced support to the JD(S) even as the assembly election results were streaming in. But the Congress failed to take into confidence local leaders, specially former chief minister Siddaramaiah, who had bitterly parted with the Gowda family that controls the JD(S). Given that the Congress high command had made up its mind, a sulking Siddaramaiah had no choice but to support his bête-noire. From Day One, Sidda, as the former CM is popularly known in Karnataka, was accused of both privately pinching the baby and publicly rocking the cradle.
Tail wagging the dog
The JD(S), with less than half of the Congress’s legislative strength, seized its good fortune with both hands. HD Kumaraswamy not only became the CM but his party men got many of the lucrative portfolios. Kumaraswamy’s brother, HD Revanna, was said to have meddled even in transfers in departments held by Congress ministers. Congress MLAs chafed at the fact that they had to be supplicants in front of their JD(S) colleagues.
As mentioned earlier the JD(S) is primarily a south Karnataka party where the BJP is, at best, a peripheral player. The primary contest in the 10 districts of south Karnataka, including Mysuru, Mandya, Chamarajanagara, Hassan, Tumkuru, was between the coalition partners. Leaders who had fought against each other for decades were suddenly asked to compromise. While the party high commands could knock the heads of leaders, the workers on ground refused to gel with one another. The BJP worked hard to increase the rift and also try and expand its strength.
Impact of Lok Sabha polls
One of the reasons why the Congress had bent over backwards to accommodate the JD(S) was to ensure that the BJP, which had consistently done well in Lok Sabha polls in the state since the mid-1990s, would be reduced to a bare minimum in the 28 parliamentary seats of Karnataka. On paper, a perfect vote transfer would have ensured that the coalition would have won at least 22 of the 28 seats. But when the general election results came in on May 23, the BJP had won 26 (including one independent candidate supported by the party) with both the Congress and the JD(S) picking up just a seat each. This sowed seeds of doubt on the sustainability of the coalition in the minds of MLAs (some of whom have become rebels now) as well as workers of the coalition parties.
The Lok Sabha poll verdict came as a shot in the arm to the saffron party that had always believed that Karnataka is its ‘gateway to the South.’ Local leaders, with the blessings of the national leadership, decided to mount a final assault on what they called as an ‘immoral, opportunistic alliance.’ The BJP party leadership also believed that depriving the Congress of Karnataka would ensure that a resource-rich state went out of the grasp of India’s Grand Old Party, dealing it a body blow and hobbling its ability to revive. The BJP decided to take advantage of fissures in the coalition.
Man in a hurry
The BJP usually has a policy of retiring its senior leaders after 75. However political compulsions in Karnataka forced the party to allow 76-year-old BS Yeddyurappa, known as the ‘Lingayat strongman’, to lead the BJP in the state. BSY, as Yeddyurappa is known to his followers, became the chief minister for 38 months in 2008 before being forced to step down amidst corruption allegations and internal bickering. Yeddyurappa is a man in hurry to reclaim what he believes is his rightful chair of the CM of Karnataka.
Neglect of Bengaluru
About half of Karnataka’s revenues comes from capital city Bengaluru. Powered by the growth of technology companies and a booming real estate, Bengaluru with 28 assembly seats (more than 10% of the total strength of the assembly) punches above its weight in the state. However a rural-oriented JD(S), whose support base is elsewhere, was accussed of neglecting the capital city. Bengaluru’s infrastructure – be it roads, water or power – is in a shambles with the city unable to cope with the massive influx of people. Some of the city most influential MLAs like ST Somashekar (who was the Bengaluru Development Authority Chairman), Muniratna, former home minister Ramalinga Reddy, Byrathi Basvaraja and others therefore turned rebels as they began to feel pressure from voters. Reddy later returned to the coalition camp.
Concentration of power
The Gowda family that controls the JD(S) has six of its members in active politics. They were seen as being avaricious. The CM, unlike in the past when he was known for his village visits and extended stay in rural areas, decided to function out of a five-star hotel. The CM’s repeated public assertions – such as he was ‘swallowing poison’ like Shiva to ensure that the coalition government sustained, he was more answerable to the Congress high command rather than the people of the state who did not give him a full majority or he was just a ‘child of cirucmstances’ -- didn’t go down well. Congress leaders felt that they were being taken advantage of with power concentrated in the hands of the Gowda family and thus a rebellion started brewing. The result is now there for all to see.