It’s not just the BJP. Karnataka Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy himself thinks his predecessor from the Congress party, Siddaramaiah, has engineered the current crisis that could lead to the collapse of the JD(S)-Congress government in the state.
The situation is not propitious for the coalition partners. With 10 Congress-JDS legislators tucked away in a Mumbai hotel, reportedly with a whopping Rs 50 crore each, a ‘comfortable retirement’ promise for some and a ministry for others, the BJP is preparing to move a no-confidence motion against the Kumaraswamy government on the first day of the next state Assembly session, July 12.
Thirteen MLAs have formally submitted resignations to Speaker KR Ramesh Kumar’s office, including three who are still in Bengaluru, but reportedly firm on the reasons for their resignations. These three have clear issues with the coalition government’s functioning, and their own unmet aspirations, but it is unclear if they are in line with the BJP’s moves.
“The hawa is in their (BJP’s) favour,” a Congress office-bearer admitted, “We may not be able to save the government this time.” The admission came even as party communications chief Randeep Singh Surjewala made combative allegations against the national ruling party, punning on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s name as ‘Mischievously Orchestrated Defections in India.”
Kumaraswamy; his father and JD(S) national president HD Deve Gowda; Congress Karnataka in charge KC Venugopal; former CM Siddaramaiah; and Congress troubleshooter DK Shivakumar have all swung into meetings and strategy sessions to stem the tide. But, as the office-bearer contended, unlike earlier attempts by the BJP to bring down this government by poaching MLAs, this time the calls and offers came from the powers-that-be in Delhi.
“No local BJP leader is operating. The calls are coming from people we cannot reach or touch in anyway,” the office-bearer said.
The BJP is taking advantage of the demoralisation that has settled into the Congress and the JD(S) in Karnataka after their crushing defeat in the recent Lok Sabha polls, when the coalition managed to win just two of Karnataka’s 28 seats, though, on paper, their combined strength should have won at least 16. The Congress, facing this situation across India, has come to the conclusion that it was Modi and Hindutva that won the election.
Kumaraswamy, however, is unwilling to lay the fault at anyone’s door except that of the faction of the Congress party led by Siddaramaiah. He indicated this in several of his press interactions and minced no words when speaking to many people informally. “He (Siddaramaiah) set out to finish me. This (BJP winning 25 seats in Karnataka and an independent winning Mandya) is the result,” he said, just a couple of days before the 11 legislators submitted their resignations.
Union Parliamentary Affairs Minister Prahlad Joshi, denying any BJP involvement in the situation, stated that it was the Kumaraswamy-Siddaramaiah tussle that was bringing the government down. Siddaramaiah has not commented on it, but Kumaraswamy clearly buys into this argument.
Of the 11 legislators involved in the current spate of resignations, at least five are those who can be called card-carrying members of the Siddaramaiah camp. Sources close to Siddaramaiah contend that he is ‘spitting mad’ that some of them have got onto the flight to Mumbai and resigned, allegedly without consulting him. But that is a contention that even other camps in the Congress find very hard to believe, let alone the JD(S).
There were two legendary rivalries in Karnataka politics that were attempted to be buried when this coalition government was formed. One was Siddaramaiah’s bitterness that his former mentor Gowda favoured his son Kumaraswamy and not him. It led to Siddaramaiah being expelled from the JD(S) for ‘anti-party activities’, pushing him into the Congress party.
So, when the coalition was formed at the behest of the then-Congress president Rahul Gandhi 14 months ago, Siddaramaiah had to bury this resentment which has characterised him for the last 13 years. The long-standing mutual animosity between him and Kumaraswamy ensured there could be no trust at any level in this government.
The other rivalry was between the Gowda family and DK Shivakumar. Shivakumar is publicly seen doing his best to save this government and as having actually put aside the 40-year-old rivalry, to all intents and purposes. Shivakumar has caste in common with the Gowdas, who seem to believe in him more readily than in Siddaramaiah, though this relationship is also not extremely stable.
To compound matters, Kumaraswamy and his deputy CM from the Congress party, G Parameshwara, have not been able to manage to gain the trust of their own band of legislators. All the BJP has had to do in this simmering situation is wait and watch for the right moment to dive in.
The moment has come now and BJP has held out the whiff of a strong lure. And the coalition, it appears, is ready to collapse on the heads of its warring leaders.
Sowmya Aji is a political journalist who has covered Karnataka for 26 years. Views expressed are the author’s own.