Imagine a middle-aged man standing outside the grand Vidhan Soudha building in Bengaluru and thinking aloud about the goings on inside the hallowed premises. I or for that matter anyone else won’t blame him if he wished to see them all out.
It’s been weeks since an unseemly drama started in Karnataka. Its repercussions are being felt all across the country: some MLAs have air dashed from Bengaluru to Mumbai, cases have been filed in Delhi. While some MLAs have chosen to return to Bengaluru, rest have stayed back in Mumbai.
The reverberations of the MLAs’ action are also impacting the collective conscience of the nation, bewildering even hardboiled political junkies. Why Karnataka? Why does the state always seem to be in the middle of one political trouble or the other. Lately, why so much resort politics?
Some wise men have even conjured the word play ‘Kar’..’nataka’ — a state whose politicians seem generally embroiled in theatrics. The parody is not lost on anyone. Unlike their counterparts in Kol-kata, Banglorians are perhaps easy going. Remember, Rajiv Gandhi once called Kolkata (then Calcutta) a “dying city” and Bengal rose as one demanding a retraction.
So what are the grievances of the Karnataka MLAs? Apparently, the rebels are unhappy with Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy. Some say JD(S) was growing in Old Mysuru region at the cost of the Congress and therefore, the alliance must be called off. There are others who feel that the coalition was timely in 2018 as it could ward off the BJP, but now it’s no longer working. Any continued association with the JD(S) would only pull down their own stock.
But it’s not just the Congress MLAs who are rebelling. It’s also the JD(S) members who have joined the mutiny. They weren’t totally happy over the alliance with the Congress as they have been fighting them for decades. Kumaraswamy broke down at the beginning of his term saying that he like Lord Shiva swallowed poison the day he signed up with the Congress.
His tormentor was and continues to be Siddaramaiah, the former Congress chief minister, a socialist, and someone who is credited with his party’s performance in the 2013 Assembly and the 2014 Par-liamentary elections. In 2018, he did put up a brave performance but could not get enough numbers to form a government. For tactical reasons he had to eat a humble pie and accept Kumaraswamy as chief minister. Siddaramaiah, once a protege of H D Deve Gowda, fell out with his mentor and joined the Congress when the senior Gowda chose to promote his son Kumaraswamy over him.
The suggestions were that Siddaramaiah’s lingering ambition and enmity with the Gowdas had taken its toll. The Congress MLAs were rebelling at his behest. Most people began to believe this until the Mumbai moment-of-truth happened when the Congress party’s chief troubleshooter and irriga-tion minister DK Shivakumar was seen munching ‘vada pav’ sitting outside the pavement of a Mumbai hotel and pleading his MLAs to reciprocate his “love”. What became clear then onwards was the involvement of the BJP.
Obvious questions were then asked, though mutedly. Who paid for the rebels’ chartered flights? Who made them stay at five-star-hotels and resorts? Why was the personal assistant of BS Yeddyurappa, who is keen to get into the shoes of Kumaraswamy, seen escorting the rebels?
The fact that money plays a crucial role in Indian politics is a given. There has been wild allegations of money changing hands. But there is more to it. After looking at publicly declared assets of individual rebels, can one conclude that sometimes one need not crave for more money, one would rather be happy preserving what one has already got.
The government of the day using enforcement agencies to intimidate rivals, especially those from the Opposition ranks is not a new phenomenon. The Congress party has been using this tactics for a while, but the new BJP dispensation seems to have converted it into a fine art. Congress and JD(S) leaders have been alleging horse trading. Now they seem to have decided to bare it all and put it on the Assembly records taking advantage of the time they got.
It’s not as if the BJP has been smelling of roses in Karnataka. For a while, the party has been trying to come to power in the state. During Yeddyurappa’s previous avatar as chief minister, Operation Kamala 1.0 was launched. Subsequently, many more versions were launched with the latest one be-ing speculated as seventh or eighth.
Henry Kissinger in the 1970s said that “power is the ultimate aphrodisiac”. Now, a few decades down, it sounds even more apt as the BJP seems all determined to wrest control from the Congress-JD(S) combine. In fact, the 2018 Assembly mandate has been a fractured one with no clear majority to any one single party. If incumbent Siddaramaiah was rejected, neither the challenger Yeddyurappa was given a clear mandate.
Usually, voluble BJP high command in Delhi is mysteriously quiet, except feeble protests that they have nothing to do with the goings on in Karnataka.
A combative Siddaramaiah and Kumaraswamy, aided by DK Shivakumar, seem to have decided to go down fighting. The issue now involves every institution from the Assembly, to the Speaker, to the Governor and the Supreme Court. Should the Court rule that rebel coalition members cannot be “compelled” to attend the proceedings of the House? This has made Siddaramaiah and Kumaraswamy raise questions on their powers as the Legislative Party leaders to issue a whip. Are they not empowered to summon their own MLAs into the House? Can the MLAs be disqualified if they don’t turn up?
Before the two leaders got their answers, the Governor of the state jumped in to issue an instruction to the Speaker that the trust vote must be held within a stipulated time. The Chief Minister and the Speaker seem to have ignored the Governor as two deadlines set by him have passed. Can the Governor, as argued by Kumaraswamy, dictate terms to a House when the process of Trust Vote has already begun? The CM has decided to take the issue back to the court.
Can the Governor now suggest a constitutional breakdown and recommend imposition of a central rule? Or will the BJP wait till the Congress- JD(S) combine get weary and step down on their own. A section of the BJP seem to think that Kumaraswamy cannot get his numbers and therefore ultimately he has to go. In the last reckoning, 20 ruling party MLAs have not attended the House. It’s just a matter of time before the regime change happens, so why show impatience?
A normal citizen enjoying a cup of tea or maybe a few drinks late into the night with his fellow being would have settled his or her difference of opinion with some arguments, punctuated at best with few profanities. The comparison may sound odious especially while dealing with matters of state or finer aspects of the Constitution. Politicians do know that the people are watching, but they should also know that their patience is wearing thin.