“Nataka” in Karnataka: BJP Juggernaut Wins

Published : Aug 01, 2019 09:00 am | By: M D Sridharan

After a prolonged political crisis and orchestrated delays, finally the Congress – JD (S) coalition government lost the confidence motion and the BJP government headed by BS Yediyurappa was sworn in as the Chief Minister of Karnataka for the fourth time.

When on July 6th, 2019, thirteen legislators – 11 from the Congress and 2 from JD (S) - submitted their resignations to the Speaker of the Assembly, it triggered the collapse of the 13-month-old Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) coalition government in Karnataka. The dissident MLAs who have quit accused the coalition government led by Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy of failing in its duty to serve the state. The legislators who have put the state government on edge, have strong reasons right from interference in work to resentment over denial of minister seat which forced them to take the extreme step.

Initially, the Congress leaders while accusing the BJP of luring MLAs away with the offer of ministerial posts and money,  expressed confidence of rescuing the coalition with the move to reshuffle the Cabinet. The Congress petitioned the Speaker not to accept resignations of 13 Congress-JD(S) legislators since they did not follow rules during submission of their resignations. In order to save  the 13-month-old coalition government, Congress and Janata Dal (Secular) had a series of meetings in a huddle.

Former Karnataka chief minister and Congress leader Siddaramaiah accused BJP of trying to destabilise the Congress-JD(S) coalition government in the state.  Siddaramaiah said “According to us these are anti-party activities and the rebel MLAs have colluded with the BJP. These people are trapped”.

 

 AICC general secretary K C Venugopal, also asserted that while some of the MLAs have some grievances, in the larger interest of the party even the entire cabinet have decided to voluntarily resign in order to accommodate the dissident legislators. Eventually, all 21 ministers of Congress and nine of the JDS resigned to enable a reshuffle of the cabinet. But, the rebel lawmakers rejected the party’s overtures to accommodate them in the new Cabinet and the dissidents flew to Mumbai and stayed in a hotel.

Several Congress MLAs, particularly those supporting former chief minister Siddaramaiah, blamed the ineffective governance provided by Kumaraswamy for the result. Most Congress MLAs who have quit are close to Siddaramaiah. Three of these MLAs have said they would take back their resignations if Siddaramaiah replaced Kumaraswamy as the chief minister. Siddaramaiah, who was earlier in the JD(S), was the chief minister from 2013 to 2018.

BJP state unit chief B S Yeddiurappa, however, denied his party was behind any “operation lotus” to engineer the resignations of the legislators. But said that Chief Minister Kumaraswamy has lost his majority and he must resign immediately.  In the 2018 Assembly elections, the BJP emerged the single largest party. The Congress with 69 seats and the JD (S) with 37 seats pipped the BJP in the race to form a government. It also had support of the lone Bahujan Samaj Party and two Independent legislators, totalling 118.

 Further the exit of Independent MLAs H Nagesh and R Shankar, inducted into the Cabinet on June 14 to bolster numbers, reduced the coalition’s strength to 104 after and increased the rebel MLAs to 15. Finally, the coalition comprised 69 Congress MLAs, 34 JD(S) and one BSP MLA compared to the BJP’s 107 (105 plus two Independents) in the 224-member House.

The Congress leaders initially put on a brave face after the resignation of all ministers and called on rebels to come back into the party fold. Congress leader D K Shivakumar, even flew to Mumbai to convince rebels to return to Bengaluru. But as the rebel put their foot strong, it became clear that negotiations with the disgruntled leaders had fallen through.

The Congress –JD(S) coalition weathered several bumps over the 13 months of power. There were several reports  of friction between Kumaraswamy and Siddaramaiah. The coalition suffered a blow in the recently concluded Lok Sabha polls, when it won just two of the 28 seats in the state while  the BJP won massively by  bagging 25  seats in the state, and supported an Independent who won from the Mandya seat. The  results indeed made an impact in the state and changed the equation. Soon after the polls, senior Congress and JD(S) leaders started blaming each other for the electoral defeats of senior leaders including former Prime Minister HD Deve Gowda.

“Nataka” and the Speaker’s Dilemma

As the coalition numbers dwindled, the BJP insisted on “Trust Vote” but the ten rebel MLAs of Congress and JD(S) had moved the Supreme Court, seeking a direction to Assembly Speaker K R Ramesh Kumar to accept their resignation submitted on July 6, and to not proceed with the applications for their disqualification from the House . The leaders accused the Speaker of abandoning his constitutional duty and deliberately delay the acceptance of their resignations.

On July 10th, a bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi asked the Karnataka Assembly Speaker to meet the rebel leader and decide on the resignation of the MLAs during the course of the day. Subsequently, the rebel MLAs who flew down from Mumbai, met the Speaker, who ruled out an immediate decision citing rules and parliamentary procedure.  “There is no date to decide the acceptance of the resignations. If I am satisfied, I will accept and if I am not satisfied the consequences are known. I will go by procedures”, said the Speaker.  Subsequently, Karnataka Assembly Speaker also moved the Supreme Court expressing that rebel MLAs resignation issue can't be decided within the deadline set by SC.

It was apparent that the Speaker’s move was an attempt to delay the process. This led the CJI to intervene and ask, “Is the Speaker challenging the authority of this court? Is the Speaker saying Supreme Court should keep its hands off? While senior advocate Mukul Rohtagi appeared for MLAs, senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi appeared for the Speaker of the assembly Ramesh Kumar and senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan for the Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy.

 

Had the Speaker accepted the resignations of 16 rebel MLAs, it would have been the curtains for the ruling Congress-JD(S) coalition. On the other hand the BJP waited for word from the Supreme Court.  “Congress-JD(S) coalition in the state is going strong despite the efforts to destabilise. We are confident and prepared for a smooth and fruitful conduct of legislative sessions,’’ Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy said following the Speaker’s decision to examine the resignations of MLAs. The Congress and JD(S) issued a whip to all its legislators, including those who have resigned, to attend the Assembly session or face disqualification for six years under the anti-defection law for violating the whip.

 

As the crisis became deeper, in a twist to the battle of power, H D Kumaraswamy made a surprise announcement in the Assembly that he would seek a trust vote. He said he sought a trust vote to end the confusion caused by resignations of rebel MLAs while asserting he was ready for everything. Almost after two weeks since the whole turmoil started with 13 MLAs of the JDS-Congress coalition resigning, finally the political drama with many twists and turns headed for a trust vote. In a bid to keep the flock together ahead of the floor test, both the Congress and BJP shifted their MLAs to hotel and resorts.

.

But, while the Congress moved in top gear to win back some of the disgruntled MLAs, five more rebel legislators approached the Supreme Court seeking a direction to Assembly Speaker K R Ramesh Kumar to decide on their resignations. The rebel MLAs claimed that the actions of Speaker in not accepting their resignation were in violation of their fundamental right and moreover they submitted their resignation much earlier to the announcement of the floor test. They also maintained that the disqualification proceedings were being used to threaten and intimidate the MLAs.

After Kumaraswamy sought the trust vote, Siddaramaiah wanted to defer it. "If this motion is taken up, then it will not be constitutional. It violates constitutional provisions. I request you to defer it. I want your ruling on this point of order," Siddaramaiah said.

 

Subsequently, on July 22nd, HD Kumaraswamy moved the confidence motion, but the process of trust vote was stalled right there. The floor test did not take place despite Kumarasamy having initiated the debate on the confidence motion and the day witnessed lot of drama with uproar, ruckus, name-calling, and sloganeering. Leaders of the coalition first stalled Kumaraswamy's speech on the confidence motion, and then, questioned the judiciary's infringement on the rights of the House and then dragged the discussion on BJP "kidnapping" MLAs. All through the day the senior members of the coalition created absolute mayhem the House was frequently adjourned as the Congress stuck to its game plan by stalling the confidence motion. Finally BJP decided to stay overnight demanding floor test be conducted. With the coalition bent on holding up,  Governor Vajubhai Vala wrote to the KUmarasamy directing him to prove majority on the floor of the House by 1.30 pm on 23th July.

 

It was very much evident that the coalition government was bent on indulging in all tactics to delay the floor test. On the other hand the BJP despite being accused of buying the MLAs maintained stoic silence in the House, fearing that any retardation may lead to the suspension of their MLAs for unruly behaviour ahead of the trust vote, thus reducing its numbers.

Speaker K R Ramesh Kumar further extended confidence motion proceedings until July 26th. But, after severe pressure from all directions over dragging the issue, the Speaker went ahead with the trust vote on July  27th  , the fourth day when the House debated on the confidence motion.

BSY Sworn in as CM

Finally, the inevitable has happened. The JD(S)-Congress coalition government in Karnataka lost the trust vote.   As expected, this time the role was reversed from Feb, 2018 when Yeddiurappa faced the trust vote. While BJP got 105 voted coalition government could get only 99 and lost the power. Finally, the high drama in the Karnataka Assembly ended the BJP way. Yeddiurappa, said, "This is the victory of democracy. The people were fed up of the HD Kumaraswamy-led government. Now, a new era of development will come.

Two days after the Congress-JD(S) coalition government collapsed,  Speaker KR Ramesh Kumar announced the disqualification of Independent MLA R Shankar and two other Congress legislators for the entire current term of the Assembly. He said he was convinced that the resignations by the three members were not voluntary and genuine and he had therefore rejected them and proceeded to disqualify them under the anti-defection law.

On 26th morning, Yeddiurappa staked claim to form the new government and took oath as the Chief Minister of Karnataka for the fourth time in the evening at the Raj Bhavan in Bengaluru. The new BJP government was asked to prove the strength on the floor of the house on 29th.

In the meanwhile Speaker KR Ramesh Kumar on 28th disqualified the rest of the Congress and JD(S) rebel MLAs, even as the ex-MLAs who were disqualified have moved the Supreme Court against Kumar's decision. Kumar announced that all the disqualification for all the rebel ex-legislators will be valid for the current term of the House, which is scheduled to end in May 2023. Effectively, the politicians will not be able to contest the by-elections that will be held in their constituencies.

 The Speaker’s decision proved to be a shot in the arm for Yeddiurappa as it had brought down the majority mark to 105, the exact number of BJP MLAs. In addition, BJP also enjoyed the support of an Independent. As a result, the new BJP government in Karnataka headed by BS Yediyurappa established its majority in the Assembly on 29th, July, after the chief minister moved a confidence motion on his government and won the trust vote by a voice note.

In a surprise move, soon after the process of trust vote, Speaker KR Ramesh Kumar announced his resignation.  The Speaker’s resignation, after a 14-month long tenure in office, was also likely amid reports that the BJP was mulling moving a no-confidence motion against him.

The Unnatural Coalition

The Congress –JD(S) coalition was woven with a layer of instability right from the day one.    On several occasions in the last 14 months, Kumaraswamy openly complained against interference from Congress leaders and even threatened to quit. Looking back, the coalition took the country by storm. Kumarasamy’s swearing-in ceremony was attended by a host of leaders from two dozen parties and was considered as the beginning of a strong anti-BJP wave. What was expected to shape a grand coalition of opposition across the nation to take on Narendra Modi and BJP in the 2019 parliamentary elections, the “Magaghatbhandan” fizzled out in a short time and TsuNamo once again swept away the opposition.

The Karnataka experiment is damning for the Congress. It further diminished its relevance in national politics.  The Karnataka coalition is a design by which two rivals came together to deny a common enemy, the power and the alliance was hastily formed on the basis of a negative agenda.

The decision by the Congress to join hands with JD(S) was purely a wicked interpretation of people’s mandate. Looking back, the BJP was just short of 7-8 seats of a majority. But, the Congress, which was 38-40 seats short of a majority, manipulated the people’s mandate and joined hands with JDS, which was short of a whopping 80 seats. Despite the Congress having more than double numbers than the JD(S), Sonia and Rahul had agreed to make Kumaraswamy the Chief Minister of Karnataka and let their party play the second fiddle.

The Congress managed to work out a strategy that defied the basic arithmetic and in the process created history by executing the biggest dishonesty to both the state of Karnataka and its people. The result was a weak and vulnerable government that was bound to crumble at any moment.

Besides in the last 14 months, Karnataka chief minister HD Kumaraswamy was seen shedding tears over the decision to join hands with the Congress. He described the alliance with Congress like drinking venom. It clearly exposed the state of the relationship between Congress and JD(S).

Though Congress, in order to keep the BJP out, went out of the way and offered H D Kumarasamy the Chief Minister post, Former Chief Minister and regional strongman Siddaramaiah could never come to terms with the loss of his power and remained highly disgruntled to kowtow before Kumarasamy.

The coalition government was full of internal contradictions and it is a fact that Kumaraswamy never had the mandate to rule Karnataka.  While there have been constant festering issues on governance between the allies and it escalated in to a crisis situation. It was a natural outcome of an unnatural alliance. The whole crisis has been triggered by the dismal performance of the coalition in the recently-held Lok Sabha elections. The BJP’s win in 25 out of 28 Lok Sabha seats was the proverbial last nail in the coffin.

 

Also, the crisis has clearly proved that opportunistic alliances that have no clear vision or any agenda for development except to share power, by keeping a third party, despite it being the single-largest, at bay will eventually collapse.Such coalition can neither hold, nor deliver.

 Questions of Stability

Though Kumarasamy  said that he was a much relieved man after losing the trust vote, the fact remains that until the final day, he was hoping for a miracle and had successfully forced the Speaker to drag out the confidence motion over four days. When everything went against them, Kumaraswamy was left with no other option but to quit.

 

Also, a majority of the Congress MLAs were not enthusiastic about the trust vote and wanted the party to sever ties with the JD(S) to prevent further damage for the party in the state.  Even Congress Legislative Party (CLP) leader Siddaramaiah was also not eager to save the government and was forced by the party high command to play a lead role till the last minute.

 

Further, Congress is hit by a leadership crisis and leaderless Congress will definitely find it difficult to boost the morale of its rank and file. Now that Rahul Gandhi has quit his post as the president without a plan of succession in place, the crisis has become greater. Though leaving the JDS alliance may be good for the Congress, but it will currently have to struggle to keep the flock together.

 

The BJP has decimated both Congress and JD(S) in the Parliament elections.  But the questions of stability weigh in on BJP’s new government in Karnataka.

 

Disqualification under anti-defection law, as the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution, bars MLAs punished for defection from occupying an elected office. Speaker Ramesh Kumar‘s ruling makes all 17 rebel MLAs ineligible to become ministers till 2023 or when next assembly election is held in Karnataka.

 

The rebel MLAs hope to get the Speaker's ruling quashed in the Supreme Court, but they  may, however, get an early reprieve from the Election Commission as done in the case of  Tamil Nadu where 18 MLAs of the ruling AIADMK were disqualified over allegiance to rebel leader TTV Dhinakaran. The Election Commission last year ruled that the rebel MLAs could contest by-election necessitated by their disqualification. Similarly, if the Election Commission overrules Speaker's decision to disqualify the rebel MLAs for entire tenure of the current assembly, they will eligible for contesting polls like their Tamil Nadu counterparts. They will again be pushing for "reward" from Yediyurappa and the BJP.

 

The Karnataka episode though on one side literally exposed the loopholes in the anti-defection law, on the other side it also exposed the mindset of the rebel MLAs. The 16 MLAs revolted mainly because they were not made ministers. The whole country witnessed the ugly aspect of the MLAs being shunted in and out of Mumbai. There are rumours about nasty big money being exchanged for such sordid display of power.

 

That exposes their attitude and the BJP should be aware that such politicians will not help the party or fulfilling the dream of Modi’s new India. The new India does want to see the squalid acts of unreliable defectors. What happened in Karnataka is nothing new in Indian politics. But, if Modi is sincere about creating a new India, then he will have to create a new political culture, especially to deal with the defectors and make sure that such politicians are not welcomed into the BJP.

The Election Commission is bound to fill the vacancies in Karnataka Assembly in six months. Yediurappa and the BJP will need to win only eight out of 17 assembly seats to keep enjoying majority in the house. This will take the BJP's tally to 113 - over the half-way mark in the full strength assembly.

Between 2008 and 2013, the BJP had seen three chief ministers, including Yeddiurappa. Under the prevailing impasse in the state, it remains to be seen whether Yeddiurappa will be able to provide a stable government and also complete his full term.

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