Karnataka crisis deepens, but it may not be a cakewalk for BJP

Karnataka, Kumaraswamy - The Federal
Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy.

The political drama continues in Karnataka as 14 MLAs of the ruling Congress-JD(S) coalition have resigned from the state assembly as of Monday (July 8) noon. The latest to pull out was independent MLA, H Nagesh, who was re-inducted into the ministry last month. He has promised to back the BJP. Besides, all the ministers (cutting across party line) resigned from the cabinet, in order to save the government, forcing the H D Kumaraswamy-led government to go for a cabinet reshuffle.

Sources believe that more resignations are likely to follow. The latest development brings down the majority mark in the 224-member Assembly to 106. With the Independent MLA’s support, the BJP has the requisite number to form the government while the Congress-JD(S) tally dropped to 104 from its earlier count of 118.

On the other hand, BJP’s Karnataka unit president BS Yeddyurappa claimed majority, saying that two independent MLAs had pledged support to his party in letters to the Governor and the BJP’s strength had gone up to 107. He said he would wait for two days to see if the Kumaraswamy government resigns by itself.

Meanwhile, Congress-JD(S) workers protested in Bengaluru and Mumbai outside the Sofitel Hotel where the rebel MLAs have been lodged and the BJP made efforts to woo them.

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Congress divided

Monday saw hectic parleys with Deputy Chief Minister G Parameshwara of the Congress charing a meeting with a few MLAs to stop them from resigning. Meanwhile, another Congress leader, D K Shivakumar requested all sitting 21 Congress ministers to resign voluntarily to make way for the rebel MLAs. This has forced a reshuffle of the HD Kumaraswamy cabinet in a bid to save the government.

Meanwhile, a section of MLAs, including five of those who resigned are loyalists of former Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, who want him to be made the Chief Minister again.

In all possibility, the government looks certain to fall, unless the rebel MLAs take up ministerships and withdraw their resignations. But again, this would mean that the government would hang by a thread for time to come.

The BJP, meanwhile, has reiterated that they would neither go for fresh polls, nor try to bring down the government forcibly. The Congress which is in a desperate situation to save the government shifted the blame on the Centre for orchestrating defections in Karnataka.

Also read: Will not withdraw resignations, say rebel Karnataka MLAs

The Congress high command which is struggling to keep its flock together across the nation, is in a spot as it doesn’t command much say in Karnataka.

AICC leader KC Venugopal rushed to Bengaluru to avert the government from collapsing. He said the party and the coalition will take all efforts to stay in power and accused the BJP of using money power and agencies like CBI, ED and IT to threaten MLAs and resort to horse-trading.

Siddaramaiah-Kumaraswamy power struggle

The fallout of the Congress-JD(S) can effectively be seen as a divide between Congress leader Siddaramaiah and JD(S) party leaders. The BJP seems to have capitalised on the situation.

Siddaramaiah, who was once a JD(S) leader, rose to power in the Congress at the cost of his former party. This has caused a lot of bitterness between the two parties since he fell out with JD(S) supremo and former PM HD Deve Gowda, as the latter oversaw the growth of his son Kumarasawmy at the cost of senior leaders like Siddaramaiah in the mid-2000s.

Siddaramaiah, the Congress legislative party leader, led the party despite its lacklustre performance in the 2018 Assembly elections, helping the party win 78 seats.

Besides, the Congress-JD(S) leaders who fought against each other in the old-Mysore region for almost 14 years, did not come together for Lok Sabha elections. This resulted in both the parties getting only one seat each of the 28 Lok Sabha seats in Karnataka.

On Sunday, Gowda allegedly blamed Siddaramaiah for the resignation of the MLAs. According to reports, Gowda was agreeable to compromise on the CM’s seat and ask his son to step down. Kumaraswamy is against Siddaramaiah becoming CM again. Gowda preferred senior Congress leader Mallikarjuna Kharge, who recently lost the Lok Sabha election, over Siddramaiah. However, Kumaraswamy hasn’t expressed his stand on the issue.

Tough road ahead for the BJP

The BJP, even if it is in a position to form the government with a wafer-thin majority, will find it hard as the Congress is likely to destabilise the government.

That said, the Congress has tried to paint a picture that the BJP has orchestrated the current political crisis. If it sticks with the people, it could help the party gain in a re-election.

In the 2018 Assembly election, the Congress had a better vote share (38%) even though they lost on the number of seats to the BJP which had about 36.2% vote share.

Also, BJP in Karnataka faces a leadership crisis, as its top leader and former CM B S Yeddyurappa (76) is battling age and health, besides not having a clean image. Meanwhile, the party has set the ball rolling to find a replacement for the state president.

BJP had sidelined senior party leader KS Eshwarappa, of the Kuruba community, someone who could have challenged Siddaramaiah. He, however, claims that he is not in race for the party’s top post.

Former minister and Vokkaliga leader R Ashoka might be another contender for the top post, but he does not command a state-wide charisma unlike the Lingayat leader Yeddyurappa, especially in north Karnataka (Hyderabad-Karnataka and Maharashtra-Karnataka areas).

Even as the Congress leaders rushed to Mumbai to convince rebel MLAs, Yeddyurappa has asked Kumaraswamy to resign on moral grounds considering the ruling government lost its majority. The BJP will decide its next course of action in its legislative party meeting on Tuesday.