NEW DELHI —After weeks of political drama in Karnataka, the Janata Dal (Secular)- Congress government in the southern state fell on Tuesday night, leaving the Congress with governments in four states and one Union Territory.
In the wake of another body blow after the abysmal general election result, Congress leaders and workers in Delhi and Karnataka, speaking on the condition of anonymity, expressed despair and frustration.
To some, the JD(S)-Congress coalition, forged between two political rivals with the sole objective of keeping the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) from taking power in Karnataka, was doomed from the start.
For those who accuse BJP of “horse trading,” there is little the Congress could have done to counter the “money and muscle power” of the ruling party.
Almost all the insiders said that the internal working dynamic of the Congress and poor leadership was at least partially to blame for the debacle.
A Congress insider in Delhi said, “This is very bad. They snatched the government from right under our noses.”
A second Congress insider in Delhi said, “The day that the JD(S)-Congress coalition happened, the fall of the government was scripted on that day itself. In hindsight, it would have been better if we had sat in the Opposition and consolidated.”
The JDS-Congress alliance, which came about after Sonia Gandhi convinced HD Deve Gowda to have faith in the partnership, was never on firm footing. The Congress and the JD(S) — with 78 and 37 lawmakers respectively — together beat out BJP’s 104. Even as the Gandhi family agreed to Gowda’s son, HD Kumaraswamy, becoming chief minister, having to play second fiddle to the JD(S) never sat well with Congress leaders and workers on the ground.
Rumblings about the fall of the JD(S) government started in the months leading up to the 2019 general election.
A commonly expressed sentiment was that if the BJP returned to power at the Centre, the JD(S)-Congress government in Karnataka would fall.
And still, the Congress and its former president Rahul Gandhi were unable to stave off the looming crisis.
This is very bad. They snatched the government from right under our noses.
Congress shares the blame
In addition to the BJP’s political machinations to bring down the Karnataka government, its fall lies squarely on the Congress itself.
Congress insiders in Delhi and in Karnataka gave four reasons for the collapse of the government: the lack of leadership in the state and in Delhi, local officials failing to relay ground truths, a clueless central command, and infighting within the party.
A Congress insider in Karnataka said that he was “happy” at the fall of his party’s government because it exposed the incompetence of its officials and the self-serving attitude of its leaders.
“I am feeling bad, but I’m also happy,” this insider said. “People here have used Rahul Gandhi’s name to become heroes but they have done nothing but make a mess of things.”
“Karnataka is the most dynastic state. Those in power are second or third generation politicians from the same families. No one new can rise. That is also part of the problem,” this insider said.
Karnataka is the most dynastic state.
Congress insiders in Karnataka said that there was never any real cohesion between the All India Congress Committee (AICC) officials working in the state and local party leaders.
The biggest casualty in all this, Congress insiders said, is information. Ground realities were rarely conveyed to the Gandhi family.
This was key to its poor performance in the Lok Sabha election, which saw the BJP take 25 of the 28 seats from Karnataka, while the Congress managed one.
For Congress workers, who have barely recovered from the general election result, losing power in the state is deeply frustrating. It is not surprising then that there is talk of internal sabotage.
In one of the conspiracy theories doing the rounds, former chief minister of Karnataka Siddaramaiah, in a bid to weaken the government, encouraged the “rebel” Congress MLAs until Kumaraswamy was forced to step down, but then his own plan got away from him.
The first insider in Delhi said, “He did not anticipate the tenacity of the BJP.”
A third insider in Delhi said, “I don’t know whether he was working to weaken the government, but how Siddaramaiah worked weakened the government. He and his followers were always confrontational with Kumaraswamy.”
I don’t know whether he was working to weaken the government, but how Siddaramaiah worked weakened the government.
Union Minister for Chemicals and Fertilisers DV Sadananda Gowda, earlier this month, claimed that Siddaramaiah was responsible for resignation of MLAs. Two MLAs in Bengaluru North Lok Sabha segment, followers of Siddaramaiah, have resigned. Siddaramaiah can quell crisis in the coalition,” he said.
Of the 14 MLAs who have resigned, 11 are from Congress and three from the JD(S). Two independents have withdraw support. The one Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) MLA, who was missing, has been expelled by Mayawati.
Of the rebel MLAs, four are from Siddaramaiah’s Kurubas (shepherd) community, two from Congress, one JD(S) and one independent.
No high command
Some within the Congress say that party high command in Delhi is not to blame for the Karnataka debacle because “there is no party high command.”
The third Congress insider said, “At this point, Delhi is defunct. No one comes to AICC. No one is giving orders. People are used to taking orders from just one family and the three family members have decided not to say anything.”
Rahul Gandhi tendered his resignation as Congress Party president, earlier this month.
Warning that Madhya Pradesh could be facing a similar fate as Karnataka, this insider said, “There is no Delhi. The state units are grappling on their own. There is barely any Opposition left in the country. The BJP will only get stronger. Perhaps, Rahul ji believes that something will rise from the ashes.”
There is no party high command.
Congress insiders in Delhi and Karnataka said that the fall of the government boiled down to the party being able to do little in the wake of BJP’s “money and muscle” power.
“With the kind of money that the BJP is throwing around, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) notices, no amount of coordination could have prevented this. Look at the income tax returns of the ‘rebels.’ They have grown richer. They are not in this for loyalty to the Congress. It is all about the money. It is all about saving one self,” the second Congress insider in Delhi said.
A second Congress insider in Karnataka said, “Yes, there have been problems within the Congress, but the BJP had decided that it wanted the government out, and there was nothing that we could do about it. The money, the ED notices, every government department is functioning like a wing of the BJP.”
Yashomati Chandrakant Thakur, AICC secretary, said that the Governor’s office in Karnataka operated like a “BJP Karyale.” “This is so sad. It is such a disgrace.”
The Congress lacked a strongman who could safeguard the alliance and ward off the BJP.
There was, however, one Congress leader who was widely credited for safeguarding the fledgling JD(S)-Congress alliance in 2018.
DK Shivakumar, the immensely wealthy lawmaker from Kanakapura, was credited for prevented the newly elected Congress MLAs from getting poached, in the midst of alleged horse trading attempts after the Assembly election.
Congress members are divided over Shivakumar, an accused in at least four cases of corruption, forgery and criminal conspiracy. His declared assets increased from ₹251 crores in 2013 to ₹840 crores in 2018. He is accused of destroying evidence in connection with multiple tax evasion cases.
While some resent his larger than life persona and strong arm tactics, others believe that he is the only leader who is capable of counteracting the BJP as well as the infighting within the Congress.
Some say that Gandhi has deliberately thwarted Shivakumar to curb his growing ambition. He went from holding the energy portfolio in the Siddaramaiah government from 2014 to 2018 to the minister in-charge of irrigation.
The Congress insider in Delhi said, “We need a strongman in the state.”
The third insider in Delhi said, “The only person who was fire fighting was DK Shivakumar.”
The Gandhi family, some insiders lament, similarly thwarted ambitious strongmen like Jagan Mohan Reddy in Andhra Pradesh and Himanta Biswa Sarma in Assam, and it came back to haunt them.
Following the floor test on Tuesday, Shivakumar tweeted, “During the trust vote debate, I quoted Voltaire - “Oh God, give me strength and defend me from my friends, I can take care of my enemies. BJP is setting a bad precedent by forming Govt’s through Operation Kamala. This has strengthened our resolve to fight to uphold democracy.”