he changing tone and tenure of statements made by the Congress Party from the moment results were declared on May 15, 2018, to the vote of confidence on May 25, need a close look. It can be safely said that the onus of stability of the coalition government lies on the Congress Party.
Even before all the results were declared on May 15, the Congress rushed to H.D. Deve Gowda with an offer of making his son H.D. Kumaraswamy, the chief minister of the state. The Congress said the support was unconditional. Within a week, just a day before the trust vote, the Deputy Chief Minister G Parmeshwara said, the Congress can’t give guarantee that the Kumaraswamy government would complete full term of five years in office.
In the beginning, it appeared that what the Congress wanted was to forego its position as the second largest party in the newly elected House with 78 members compared to 37 seats of JD(S). “We want to stop BJP and its leader from coming to power in Karnataka at all cost”, Congress leaders declared. But it was not the real motto of the Congress Party. Behind the move to give JD(S) the post of chief minister was a hidden agenda to extract maximum pound of flesh from the JD(S).
The real face of the Congress was exposed by its leaders as the day passed by. First it was the ‘unconditional’ support to Kumaraswamy. Within 24 hours the Congress made it clear that it will share power in the coalition government. It also made the claim of having a Deputy Chief Minister from the Congress side. The JD(S) conceded the demand.
With each passing hour there was intense lobbying and bargaining with the junior partner of the coalition, the JDS. The Congress Party demanded it’s leader to be elected for the Speaker of the House and it got it. It is learnt that the Central leadership of the Congress did not approve hard bargaining for sharing power with the JD(S). But writ of 24, Akbar Road, New Delhi does not run in Bengaluru, so it seems. The Congress leadership wanted that Kumaraswamy, the new chief minister be given some breathing time. Expansion of the Cabinet can be taken up after few weeks. But the state leaders of the Congress in Karnataka were up in arms demanding bigger slice of the power cake. And they are gunning for the same.
Political Uncertainty Remains
Though a new coalition government has taken over in Karnataka, political uncertainty exists there. Contrary to general view that the BJP will pull down the Kumaraswamy government at earliest given opportunity, the fact is, if the government collapses it will happen under its own weight of power struggle.
I briefly recollect the past political behaviour of the Congress Party. Nobody can tell it better than the JD(S) patriarch H.D. Deve Gowda. After the fall of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government in 1996 (after 13 days), the joint Opposition propped up Deve Gowda as Prime Minister of the United Front Government. Within 10 months, the then Congress President Sitaram Kesri withdrew support to Deve Gowda government. He was replaced by Inder Kumar Gujral. Gujaral had to go as Kesri wanted the United Front Government to drop all DMK Ministers from the Union Council of Ministers. Gujral refused to do so. It is said that Kesri himself wanted to become Prime Minister but other partners of the United Front refused to support him. As a result of this, mid-term Lok Sabha polls were announced in 1998. Vajpayee returned to power and the rest is history.
In 1991, Congress first propped up Chandra Shekhar as Prime Minister and within four months it pulled down the Chandra Shekhar Government again forcing a mid-term Lok Sabha election. The act was repeated with Charan Singh who became Prime Minister after the fall of the Morarji Desai Government. Charan Singh had to go.
This time in Karnataka it is unlikely that Congress will withdraw support to Kumaraswamy government. The politics can change the game for different reasons. There is palpable disenchantment within the Congress Party which is not reconciled to handing over the baton of power to the JDS which has fewer seats. The Congress leaders are not immune from the lure of power and money. Should they see a greener pasture in switching loyalties, they will not take a minute to desert the ship they are riding on now. The only thing that can allow continuity of the coalition government is rotational chief minister. Kumaraswamy will have to pass the baton to someone from Congress to head the government.
The leader of the Congress to be watched is former chief minister of Karnataka Siddaramaiah. Over five years he has created a centre of power within the Congress in Karnataka. Though, he himself will never be welcomed by the BJP, he will be delighted to see the fall of the JD(S) government sooner than later.
Another leader to be kept under the radar is Mallikarjun Kharge, presently leader of Congress Parliamentary Party in the Lok Sabha. He has the ambition of becoming chief minister of his home state of Karnataka.
The fault line in the coalition government does not pass through the camp of JD(S) and it is entrenched in Congress. The key areas where the new government has to work are in the farm sector as farmers are in distress. The first thing that B S Yeddyurappa did soon after taking oath of chief minister on May 17 was to waive the farm loans. It remains to be seen if Kumaraswamy will do so as the decision of Yeddyurappa as chief minister for two days is infructuous.
The second area that demands attention is deteriorating law and order situation in the state over five years of Congress rule. The BJP is not in a hurry to usurp power in Bengaluru. If power comes knocking at its door, the party is ready to open the door since the people’s mandate is with it.
R K Sinha
(The writer is a Member of Parliament, Rajya Sabha)