Intelligence failure

Published on Jan 30, 2006 12:20 AM IST

The fall of the Dharam Singh government has fully exposed former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda, writes Pankaj Vohra.

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None | ByBetween us | Pankaj Vohra

The dramatic political developments in Karnataka that led to the fall of a secular government headed by Dharam Singh have once again demonstrated that the Congress needs to gear up its crisis management systems as much as it needs to have its ear closer to the ground to preempt conspiracies detrimental to its interests. In fact, the Congress can’t absolve itself of the blame of allowing, for the first time, the installation of a BJP coalition in South India. This is something that will remain a cause of concern for all secular forces for a long time to come.

The fall of the government also has fully exposed former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda, who is suspected to have engineered the entire drama while maintaining a secular facade. By resigning as party chief soon after the recognition of his son as the leader of the group in the assembly, he facilitated the new coalition. His game seems to be clear. By issuing statements expressing his helplessness to avoid the formation of the new government and by declaring himself a secularist, Gowda is attempting to have the best of both worlds.

It would be foolish for anyone to think that Gowda was ditched by his own son and that he was totally sincere in his dealings with the Congress after Kumaraswamy announced his intentions of going with the BJP. The new coalition has the father’s blessings and he is hoping that while his son leads the government, he can sit in the ‘secular’ room by maintaining contacts with other secular parties.

The possible gameplan could be that when the time comes to ‘ditch’ the BJP just before the first phase of coalition ends, the legislators can return to the elder Deve Gowda asking for his forgiveness. He may thus become ‘secular’ once again just before the next round of polls. There are some in Karnataka who are of the view that the new coalition will not last the remaining tenure and will be brought down just before the BJP’s turn comes to assume power.

Since the coalition in social terms is also an alliance of Vokkaligas and Lingayats, the JD(S) which has the Vokkaligas backing may not want the other community to assume the position of power in the second phase. In other words, the government, despite the requisite numbers on its side may get formed with a feeling of distrust from the very beginning. But the developments have fully exposed the former PM who took pride in laying emphasis on his secular credentials in order to play down allegations of his past association with the RSS.

The Congress too has badly bungled and needs to pull up its socks. Its first failure was its inability to timely anticipate the change of mood in the JD(S). And if the information was indeed available, as is claimed by some Congressmen, then why were immediate steps not taken to prevent the crisis from blowing up? It is evident that those who were looking after the state’s delicate political situation kept the Congress president in the dark about several issues — or did not apprise her of the full facts, either out of ignorance or deliberately. Her services were requisitioned when those who had apparently bungled had to be saved.

Some JD(S) leaders blamed the uncalled interference of former CM and present Maharashtra Governor S.M. Krishna for the turn of events. But in any case, it is hard to believe that so many senior leaders from the state were unaware of what was happening behind the scenes when in Karnataka’s political circles, the confabulations between the JD(S) and the BJP had become the main talking point. Ordinarily speaking, the fall of the Congress-led government could have been taken in stride but in this case, the flip side was very alarming — that it would lead to a BJP-dominated ministry.

The Congress strategy on the last day before the assembly adjourned sine die was intriguing. Deve Gowda wanted that there should be no voting as it would lead to bitterness. But it would have been in the Congress’s interest to go ahead with the voting. This would have helped record voting by JD(S) legislators along with the BJP. Deve Gowda’s bluff would have been totally called off. Instead, the Congressmen rushed to the House to question how the Speaker had accepted the change of leadership among the JD(S) legislators. Obviously, the decision of the Speaker is supreme in the House. This should not have caused any anguish among the Congress MLAs.

Once the Speaker took his decision, it was known that the Dharam Singh government had no feet to stand on. The chief minister should have ideally then pressed for a vote and resigned immediately thereafter. Even if no vote was taken, the CM should have still resigned in observance of correct political propriety. The delay in resigning has, in fact, shown the Congress in poor light.

The Congress bungling is most alarming since it is not the first time the party has faltered on a major game of power play. It allowed the BJP to form the government in Jharkhand. Its image suffered a setback on the Volcker issue and on the Quattrocchi affair. Therefore, it would be in the fitness of things if accountability is fixed for the Karnataka fiasco.

The Congress must send a message that the bungling is indefensible. And those who faltered in anticipating the crisis and thus facilitated the formation of a BJP-dominated government for the first time in the South must not go unpunished. It will also send the right signal to the allies. Between us.

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