Karnataka drama not finished yet

The first episode in the Karnataka drama ended with the BJP suffering a setback. It should not have staked the claim for government formation when it was short of eight MLAs in the newly–elected Assembly. It did. The hope to wean away a handful of legislators from the Congress and the JD(S) to make up the shortfall did not work. Neither did the lure of ministership nor money. Crucially, the Supreme Court had reduced the time from fifteen days to a mere 24 hours. Besides, the rivals had locked away their MLAs and seized their cell phones. Chief Minister B S Yeddyurappa resigned after making an emotional speech in the Assembly, but without forcing the head-count.

The Governor Vajubai Vala lost no time in extending the invitation to the leader of the JD(S)-Congress combine, H D Kumaraswamy. The new government is scheduled to be sworn in on Wednesday, May 23. How long will it last is a question that is on the lips of everyone in Karnataka. Having been bitter rivals, having fought a fiercely bitter election, supping together in government wouldn’t be easy. Besides, the chief minister belongs to a party which has less than half the MLAs than the bigger ally. Admittedly, the Congress high command’s desperation to deny the BJP which won 104 seats, and needed only eight more to reach the half-way mark, had forced it sell itself cheap. But the mutual contradictions and antipathies are bound to come into play as the days go by with the jockeying for power within the ministry casting a shadow on the shotgun alliance.

But the fear of the BJP, which brought them together in the first place, is expected to keep them together for a while longer. Of course, the much larger Opposition BJP in the Assembly cannot be expected to sit idly by as the JD(S)-Congress share the spoils of office. In time, there could be blandishments to a section of the ruling alliance to do business with the BJP. The point: the Kumaraswamy Government will not feel stable even for a moment, with the mischief strewn within and without. However, for the time being, the forced coming together of the JD(S)-Congress is bound to generate hope of a national-level unity of the Opposition parties.

This cannot be ruled out, given that the Congress leadership has agreed to play a junior partner in an alliance where it had much larger numbers. This would encourage other non-BJP parties to try and persuade the Congress leadership to give up its right to head a national alliance against the BJP. In other words, should Rahul Gandhi give up his claim to prime ministership, a major obstacle in a larger alliance to challenge Modi in 2019 can become a reality. Will he do it even if the party were to win a larger number of seats in the Lok Sabha than the regional parties do individually remains in doubt.

Also, aside from Rahul, there are a number of regional leaders who harbour prime ministerial ambitions. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee no longer shies from displaying her wish to occupy the prime minister’s post. In the last few days, former prime minister Deve Gowda has begin to nurse the ambition to reoccupy that office. Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati cannot be denied their ambitions, either. Then, depending on their strength in the new parliament, the leader of the DMK, M Karunanidhi, despite his ill-health, might want to take a shot at becoming prime minister. And here we are not even talking about ideological and programmatic contradictions and regional pulls and pressures. Yes, the Karnataka events might have hastened the coming together of diverse forces to challenge the BJP, but it will depend on how the Kumaraswamy government functions.

Besides, it cannot be assumed that the Modi-Shah duo would sit idly by as the Opposition forces smoothen the rough edges of their alliance and develop a common strategy to challenge the BJP in 2019. In politics, nothing is permanent. The BJP leadership is unlikely to take long to recover from the Karnataka failure before it unleashes its plan to spoil the Opposition celebrations. There is never a dull moment in Indian politics. We shall keep our eyes popped for the next episode in the unfinished Karnataka drama.

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Free Press Journal