Karnataka Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy is no stranger to making the best of political crises. The biggest example of this would be the 2004 state election, where he had first formed an alliance with the Congress and later withdrew support to join hands with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
But this time, he faces a much bigger challenge: a BJP that has been rejuvenated by its massive victory in the general election. With no back-up partner this time and not enough seats to form a majority government, Kumaraswamy has little option but to put up a brave face and try to save his government.
13 dissident MLAs —10 from the Congress and 3 from the JD(S) — submitted their resignations to the Assembly Speaker’s office on Saturday, and two independent legislators — H Nagesh and R Shankar — have also withdrawn their support. The entire state cabinet quit on Monday to give a free hand to Kumaraswamy to try and coax the rebel MLAs back into the fold.
Kumaraswamy, meanwhile, has assured his supporters that the government will survive. His confidence has raised some jocular speculation that he has a new trick up his sleeve.
But even if the veteran politician manages to tide over the crisis (which looks unlikely), it would be nothing more than a bandaid over a political fracture.
The signs of a crisis in Karnataka had been visible for a long time, so much so that state BJP chief B.S. Yeddyurappasaid in May that his party would just wait for the Congress-JD(S) government to collapse on its own due to infighting.
When the two parties cobbled together an alliance to prevent the BJP from coming to power in 2018, there were already doubts about its future (read here and here). Speculations were rife that there are contradictions between the JD(S) and the Congress and the parties’ cadres don’t see eye to eye.
The alliance has had a bumpy road till now, with Kumaraswamy making his displeasure with the Congress public on several occasions, MLAs withdrawing support and fears of BJP’s ‘Operation Lotus’ haunting the two parties.
In July last year, Kumaraswamy broke down and said he has swallowed the pain of coalition government with the Congress. The chief minister said, “I have swallowed poison like Lord Vishakantha. You all are happy that I became the CM. But I’m not.”
Later, he denied any problems with his coalition partner and told India Today that what he had actually swallowed was “the poison of a section of society that is misleading the people of Karnataka”.
Citing sources, News18 reported in January that Kumaraswamy told JD(S) MLAs and MLCs that he was functioning like a “clerk” and not like a chief minister because of the Congress’ interference.
Kumaraswamy had also threatened to resign as acrimony between the Congress and the JD(S) in Karnataka reached a new high. His comments came after a Congress MLA demanded that Siddaramaiah be made the chief minister again.
Kumaraswamy said, “If my way of functioning is not acceptable, I am ready to resign. I don’t crave for position.”
Former CM Siddaramaiah, according to an Economic Times report, has been a bone of contention between the two parties since they first formed an alliance after the 2004 state elections.
In 2004, the Congress and JD(S) had come together to form a coalition government headed by Congress’s Dharam Singh and Siddaramaiah (then with the JD(S)) as the deputy chief minister. In 2006, JD(S) withdrew support from the Congress and allied with the BJP. Siddaramaiah joined the Congress just six months after Kumaraswamy broke away with rebel MLAs to become the chief minister of the JD(S)-BJP alliance government.
The personal bitterness between Siddaramaiah and his former party had seeped into the tenuous alliance this time as well.
Kumaraswamy’s alliance with the BJP also did not last. According to their arrangement, Kumaraswamy would be the chief minister for the first 20 months and then make way for Yeddyurappa.
But the JD(S) went back on this promise and in 2007, the BJP withdrew support to the government, which led to a period of sustained political instability in the state.
Kumaraswamy’s brave facade notwithstanding, the bitter truth is that he has burnt his bridges with the BJP and brought his beef with the Congress in the open. There are no lasting enemies in politics, but unless Kumaraswamy pulls off a last-minute surprise, it’s likely that another government headed by him is staring at a collapse.
(With PTI inputs)