The spat between the leaders of ruling coalition–the Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular) indicate the arrival of instability for the third time in Karnataka. While everyone awaits the May 23 general election results which could decide the fate of the ruling government, the constant bickering between former chief minister Siddaramaiah with the JD(S) state president A H Vishwanath, has led to a wider divide between the two parties.
The controversy erupted after some Congress leaders pressed for Siddaramaiah as the chief minister again. Though their comments were unwarranted, it upset the incumbent Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy, who, instructed his coalition partner to warn its leaders acting against the government’s interest.
BJP has termed the current Chief Minister Kumaraswamy a weak leader. Some congress legislators like M B Patil, D K Shivakumar and Parameshwara feel that Siddaramaiah has the power to keep the MLAs intact and take on the BJP in the state. And hence they want Siddaramaiah to be in the lead.
After a fractured mandate in the 2018 election, Congress and JD(S) which came together with the sole purpose of keeping the “communal” BJP out of power, is going through a difficult journey. From portfolio allocation to fund assignment to various departments and seat sharing agreement for the Lok Sabha elections, the parties have had differences only to sort them out keeping the larger interest in mind.
But, with the workers fighting at the grassroots level, for parties which fought elections against each other, the coming together has been difficult. But the fight ahead of the Assembly by-polls in Kundgol and Chincholi, which are crucial for the both the parties, could hurt the chances of the Congress candidates. BJP latches on to the instability and infighting within the ruling dispensation to campaign against them.
If the Congress loses the by-polls, the numbers in the Assembly would come down. And with a handful of MLAs siding with the BJP, the government could collapse. Again, if the JD(S) loses the Lok Sabha seats in South Karnataka, the party may blame the Congress for lack of support from its party cadres on ground. And this could aid instability. Therefore, it can be assumed that the arrangement would continue until the results.
While Vishwanath, who quit the Congress alleging that party leaders including Siddarmaiah neglected leaders like him, questioned the performance of the latter when he was the chief minister between 2013 and 2018. In response, Siddaramaiah said he could not speak out as coalition ‘dharma’ (righteousness) prevented him from doing so. He, however, called Vishwanath’s comments irresponsible.
Both, Vishwanath and Siddaramaiah hail from the Kuruba community and belong to the old Mysuru region in South Karnataka. They share a bitter past. Vishwanath, a long serving Congressman moved to the JD(S) in 2017 ahead of the Assembly elections last year. Siddaramaiah, a JD(S) leader had joined the Congress in 2005 after JD(S) party supremo H D Deve Gowda expelled him for anti-party activities.
Coalition instability in 2004, 2006
It’s not the first time the coalition partners Congress and JD(S) are struggling to be together. It’s a repeat of 2004 when the two parties formed an alliance to keep the BJP at bay. It was the first coalition in Karnataka. Factionalism, splits and mergers were part of the coalition even then. As part of the coalition agreement, Siddaramaiah was made the deputy CM.
But in the middle of the ruling coalition’s tenure, Deve Gowda expelled Siddaramaiah on the ground that he attended the Ahinda (Alpasankyataru, Hindulidavaru, Dalitaru) convention of backward classes, minorities and Dalits. But Siddaramaiah claimed that he posed a challenge for the rise for Gowda’s son Kumaraswamy, and hence the party expelled him.
While, this did not impact the ruling coalition then, Kumaraswamy staged a coup with the support of a few MLAs to form another coalition with the BJP. That gave the saffron party an opportunity to taste power for the first ever time in a southern state. But that coalition too couldn’t survive beyond 18 months.
In none of the previous two instances, the coalitions were able to complete their full term. The differences between the party leaders led to the fall of governments.
Today, while the BJP state president keeps saying that the party would form the government after the May 23 Lok Sabha results, one of its leaders, Nalik Kumar Kateel from Mangaluru expressed the view that the state should be ready for another election.