With the BJP coming out in the open about engineering the political crisis that appears set to drown the JD(S)-Congress government in Karnataka, the manner in which former Chief Minister Siddaramaiah’s closest aides have been targeted for the poaching stands out for its clinical clarity.
The BJP and its national President and Home Minister Amit Shah have struck the coalition at its weakest point. And in the process, they have the additional gain of discrediting and breaking down the one person who could have prevented the imminent collapse and revived the Congress in the state, Siddaramaiah.
Coalition partner JD(S) firmly believed Siddaramaiah was behind the crisis as at least six of the legislators sitting in the Mumbai hotel are among the former CM’s closest aides. Two of them -- Byrati Basavaraj and MTB Nagaraj -- belong to Siddaramaiah’s caste and have been funding his political career from several years.
The BJP was so successful in fanning internecine fires that factions of the Congress party also believed that Siddaramaiah had sent his legislators to rebel against the coalition. That thought still persists and could even have a semblance of truth, as people feel it is entirely possible Siddaramaiah told his supporters to take their money and profits where they could, rather than depend on him to advance their careers in the current situation.
Till the Karnataka Assembly Elections of May 2018, Siddaramaiah was the sole leader and undoubted mascot of the Congress party. Even after the party failed to secure a majority and had to settle for 25 seats less than the BJP in the 224-member house, Siddaramaiah was the sole leader trusted by most of the party and by the outgoing Congress President Rahul Gandhi.
The CM post went to HD Kumaraswamy of the JD(S) -- a man Siddaramaiah has a mutually antagonistic relationship with -- and the deputy CM’s post went to the then state unit President of the Congress party, G Parameshwara -- another man with whom Siddaramaiah has a mutually uncomfortable relationship. The Congress High Command, however, made it clear that Siddaramaiah would be the Legislature party leader and the Chairman of the Coordination Committee between the coalition partners, making him a clear power centre.
Siddaramaiah, however, appears to have visibly failed to live up to the additional pressure and responsibility of keeping afloat a coalition that goes very much against the grain for him. He did not ‘help’ his followers, he did not intercede or persuade Kumaraswamy-Parameshwara to carry out their wishes, he did not smooth differences among the coalition factions or even within the Congress party. To all intents and purposes, Siddaramaiah just let things go without keeping a check or control on it.
The most charitable interpretation of his actions would be that he was too heartbroken over the decisive loss he faced in his home constituency of Chamundeshwari in the May 2018 poll. Though his second constituency Badami elected him, his situation was similar to what Rahul Gandhi is facing now (defeat in home constituency Amethi, elected from Wayanad) and he had similar instincts of not wanting to have anything more to do with direct politics for at least a while.
He stated several times to people around him that he had no desire to fight an election ever again. And none of the Siddaramaiah shrewdness was evident in the selection of candidates to the Lok Sabha polls -- it caused more suspicion from the JD(S) and the other Congress factions that Siddaramaiah was only looking out for himself and not for either the party or the coalition.
Now, with his close supporters sitting in the BJP camp and his image as a strong leader with staunch followers all in tatters, if it is true that Siddaramaiah engineered the coalition fall, as some people still believe, he has shot himself in the foot. The BJP has reaped the full benefit of the situation, something their party president would have definitely accounted for: they have nearly removed Siddaramaiah as any kind of threat to stop their sweep of the state and also succeeded in their goal of pulling down the ‘Congress’ part of the coalition government.
Sowmya Aji is a political journalist who has covered Karnataka for 26 years. Views expressed are author's own.