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What led to the Karnataka crisis

The decision to award tickets to two of Gowda’s grandsons during the recent Lok Sabha elections, overlooking other loyal workers, did not go down well with the party members

As new political drama plays out in Karnataka each day, Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy is hoping for a miracle.

In 2018, he became the chief minister with the Congress’s support, despite his party, Janata Dal-Secular (JDS), securing only 37 of 224 assembly seats—a clear stroke of luck. In 1996, when his father, HD Deve Gowda, became the prime minister, the Janata Dal had only 46 seats in the 545-member Lok Sabha. The Gowdas who have been extremely lucky so far, are facing the worst-ever political crisis.

As things stand today, the Kumaraswamy government’s tally has fallen to 102 with the resignation of 14 MLAs of the Congress-JD(S) combine, and the withdrawal of support by two independents. Meanwhile, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has 105 members; the lone Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) MLA is yet to spell out his stand. While it may appear that the chief minister has lost his majority, legally, the government has not yet been reduced to a minority as the resignations are yet to be accepted by the Speaker.

The JDS-Congress combine has accused the BJP of poaching its MLAs, but several other factors too have contributed to the impasse. The JDS members are peeved with the high-handed behaviour of Deve Gowda and his sons who have reduced the party to a family enterprise.

The decision to award tickets to two of Gowda’s grandsons during the recent Lok Sabha elections, overlooking other loyal workers, did not go down well with the party members. The JDS faced a humiliating defeat with Gowda and Kumaraswamy’s son Nikhil Kumaraswamy being routed. Despite this, Gowda appointed Nikhil as the youth wing president of the party, which added to the resentment.

Furthermore, Kumaraswamy—who during his earlier term as chief minister was known to be affable—has alienated himself from the rank-and-file of the party, while the Gowda family is accused of unnecessarily interfering in the work of MLAs. Thus, the rebellion was long overdue.

On Congress’s side, a combination of factors has contributed to the upheaval. A majority of those who have resigned are unhappy over not being inducted as ministers. Some MLAs from Bengaluru are said to be upset with Deputy Chief Minister G Parameshwara. As the city development minister, he has tightened his grip over civic bodies, which are known to be milch cows for politicians. One of his unpopular decisions was to cut Bengaluru Mayor’s discretionary funds from ₹150 crore to ₹40 crore.

Some Congress leaders are also accused of fuelling dissent because of their intra-party differences and the ambition of a few to become the chief minister. Many Congress leaders who see the coalition as a burden, view this as an opportunity to break away from the JDS.

During the recent Lok Sabha elections, which the coalition partners fought together in Karnataka, the Congress managed to win only one of the 28 seats. However, in the urban local body polls that followed, the Congress party won over 50 per cent of the seats. The biggest dilemma for the Congress now is that the BJP may come to power, if the Kumaraswamy government is allowed to fall.

Meanwhile, the BJP, which has made at least half-a-dozen futile attempts to dislodge the government, is fishing in troubled waters and trying to win over the rebels.

The situation continues to be fluid and it would be difficult to hazard a guess on how it may ultimately pan out. Kumaraswamy has already secured the resignations of all his ministers and is confident he will be able to win over some of the rebels by offering them cabinet berths. If this works, the crisis will blow over, at least for the time being. Another proposal is to replace Kumaraswamy with a Congress chief minister—Siddaramaiah, Mallikarjun Kharge or DK Shivakumar. In such an eventuality, Deve Gowda may propose his other son, HD Revanna as the deputy chief minister.

If things do not go as planned, the action will shift to Speaker KR Ramesh Kumar’s office. As per parliamentary procedure, the Speaker is expected to meet all MLAs individually and satisfy himself that they did not resign under duress or coercion. The process is likely to take a couple of days and give the JDS-Congress combine a window to win back their legislators.

If the MLAs remain firm in their decision, the Speaker may accept their resignations, reject them or sit on them for an indefinite period. Depending on this, legal and other options will have to be explored. If the resignations are accepted, it will spell doom for the government.

The MLAs also have the option of presenting themselves before the Governor and jointly petitioning to him about their withdrawal of support. The Governor will then direct the chief minister to prove his majority on the floor of the house by moving a motion of confidence.

At this point, Kumaraswamy may choose to resign. But he might opt to face the Assembly as it will give him an opportunity to go down as a hero and emerge a martyr, besides gaining political mileage. The BJP will then stake claim to form the new government.

However, the prospect of BS Yeddyurappa taking over the chief minister does not enthuse many, including several BJP leaders. The last time the BJP was in power in Karnataka, it was marked by political instability with three chief ministers in five years. Yeddyurappa went to jail on corruption charges accompanied by a string of his ministers.

There is one school of thought that the BJP—instead of rushing to form the government and being seen as the villain of the piece—might prefer a spell of President’s rule. A decision on whether the party should form the government or go in for mid-term polls can be taken later.

At the moment, though, all the actors in the play are completely clueless about how the next scene will unfold.