Greed vs Fear: Decoding the Congress-JD(S) gameplan in Karnataka

Karnataka, BJP, JDS, Congress, trust vote, The Federal
Karnataka Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy with his cabinet colleagues in Bengaluru. (PTI Photo)

Politics has given the Congress-JD(S) coalition a lemon in Karnataka. Together, like true optimists, its leaders are trying to make a lemonade out of it. And the Supreme Court status-quo till Tuesday (July 16) on the resignations by rebel legislators has added a bit of sugar to their efforts.

It is clear by now that the Congress-JD(S) government can survive only if it manages to woo back the 18 legislators who have bolted from its stables. All other scenarios, permutations and combinations point to just one ending — the fall of the government.

The Karnataka Assembly Speaker KR Ramesh — the man who controls all the strings now — has just two options. One, he can accept the resignations of the rebels, and thus, bring down the strength of the coalition to 100 and the majority mark to 105. With the BJP — surprise, surprise — having exactly 105 legislators in its ranks, it will pave the way for BS Yeddyurappa 2.0.

His other option is to reject the resignations. If that happens, the BJP can bring a no-confidence motion, the rebels can abstain and the government can fall. A similar ploy will bring down the Speaker, in case the vote of no-confidence is against the chair.

So, as you can see, the coalition doesn’t have too many options.

But, the coalition has the option of working on one of the most basic instincts of politicians — greed and fear. And that’s exactly what it is trying.

A few days ago, the government asked all its ministers to resign voluntarily. That was its opening gambit in the game of greed and fear. With this move, it told the rebels that they can be made minsters if they return home. This “we have vacancies” move was followed by Congress leader DK Shivakumar’s emotional appeal to those who had fled. By calling them family, he tried to convey to them that everything would be forgiven like a minor tiff if they come back and take their pick from the ministries that have been set aside for them.

Read: K’taka CM Kumaraswamy to seek trust vote, asks Speaker to fix time

So far, the rebels have not bitten the bait. Why do they need something that has already been promised by rival suitors? As the famous jingle said, ye dil maange more (heart craves for more). Unfortunately, the government doesn’t seem to have that extra to offer.

So, enter fear.

The Congress-JD(S) is now trying to ensure that the legislators are disqualified. Once that happens, it wants them to be barred from a ministerial berth till they return to the Assembly after winning a by-poll that would be triggered by their exit. Under the existing law, anybody can be made a minister for six months even without being a member of Parliament or state assembly. But, the term can be extended only if the minister becomes an elected member of the concerned House.

This provision, as pointed out by the Federal here,  comes with a rider. Section 2 of Tenth Schedule under title “Provisions as to disqualification on ground of defection”, says ‘a member of the House belonging to any political party shall be “disqualified for being a member of the House” (a) if he has voluntarily given up his membership of such political party…”.

So, the government is hoping that it would get the rebels disqualified for voluntarily giving up membership of their party. This will make them ineligible for being a member of the assembly, and thus, a minister.

On Friday, Congress leader and prominent lawyer Abhishek Manu Singhvi argued in the Supreme Court that the rebels should be disqualified. He said Section 164 of the Constitution clearly says any member who gives up membership of his party can’t be made a minister without winning an election. If the apex court agrees to this argument, the rebels might be open to reconsidering their resignation. After all, a ministry in hand, is better than a promise six months away.

In the meantime, chief minister HD Kumaraswamy has announced his eagerness for a trust vote. With the future of the rebels still in the balance, the alliance will make an all-out effort to play on the fear and greed of not just the rebels, but also the hopefuls in the rival camp. You can already see fear creeping into the BJP camp. Its decision to herd its legislators in a Bengaluru resort betrays its own insecurities.

Even Yeddyurappa, the old man in a tearing hurry, knows that caught between greed and fear, many morals are being squeezed.

Call it the lemon effect.