Lok Sabha elections 2019: For Karnataka coalition, a year of living dangerously
Exactly a year ago to the day, leaders of opposition parties from across the country sat on a platform in front of the majestic Vidhana Soudha , the seat of the Karnataka legislature, in a show of solidarity to mark the swearing-in of a new coalition government in the state.
Chief minister HD Kumaraswamy of the Janata Dal (Secular), or JD (S), and deputy chief minister G Parameshwara of the Congress took the oaths of office and secrecy that day following days of intrigue over government formation.
The alliance was forged in the confusion that surrounded the results of last year’s state elections. The BJP had come closest to a majority, winning 104 of the 224 seats to emerge as the largest single party in the assembly. The Congress had been reduced from a majority to 80 seats, after providing the first government in over two decades to complete a full term in Karnataka. With the support of the 37 MLAs of the JD(S), and the lone Bahujan Samaj Party legislator, the coalition cobbled together a majority of 118.
And although it began with promise, the coalition has spent a tenuous year in power, fretful about legislators switching allegiance to the BJP and bickering among themselves.
Matters reached a head in January when the coalition appeared to be teetering on the brink after four Congress legislators went missing. The four rebels had been expected to defect to the BJP; only one, Umesh Jadhav, eventually did so. Another MLA, Ramesh Jarkiholi, has stated publicly that he would quit the party at a suitable time.
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These issues have continued unabated, as was seen again on Wednesday. JD(S) state president AH Vishwanath, a long-time foe of former Congress chief minister Siddaramaiah, once again rebuked him for failing in his duty as the chief of the coalition’s coordination committee.
“Siddaramaiah, as chief of the coordination committee, should ensure we work together and also draw up a common minimum programme. However, there are no such guidelines for this government,” Vishwanath said.
One key factor in these internecine quarrels has been the overhanging shadow of the Siddaramaiah government. And Siddaramaiah’s influence over the government has been such that even Congress leaders have lashed out at him. On Monday, Congress MLA Roshan Baig accused Siddaramaiah of being arrogant.
The Lok Sabha seat division and subsequent election campaign, too, turned into a flash point as first the parties took a long time on settling on a seat-sharing formula. The Mandya Lok Sabha seat became the focal point for dissenting leaders from both sides. Independent candidate Sumalatha, wife of the late film star and former union minister MH Ambareesh, received the tacit backing of Congress leaders from the constituency. As a result, what had once seemed to be a cakewalk for Kumaraswamy’s son Nikhil turned into one of the most bitterly fought contests. These infractions from the Congress were serious enough for party president Rahul Gandhi to instruct state leaders at a meeting in New Delhi on Sunday to make sure the coalition did not collapse. Privately, several leaders of the coalition admitted to HT that the arrangement was fraying fast, with both parties daring the other to pull the plug.
“The alliance was not formed to provide good governance, it was formed to show the country that we can work in a coalition. If we cannot hold on to a coalition with one party, how will we convince others nationally that they can forge a large front with us,” a senior Congress minister in the state government said.
According to the minister, it was apparent to the party that its vote base in the southern old Mysuru region was being affected by the alliance. “Politically there has been little benefit for us from this at the state level. In fact, our association with this government is hurting our image,” the minister said.
These fundamental differences have made the BJP sense that a collapse of the government may be around the corner. On Wednesday, Union minister DV Sadananda Gowda predicted that the government would fall by the evening of Thursday, when the results of the Lok Sabha elections will be declared .