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Posted at: Jul 12, 2019, 6:44 AM; last updated: Jul 12, 2019, 6:44 AM (IST)

Win-win situation for BJP

Radhika Ramaseshan

Radhika Ramaseshan
Party’s dominance at the Centre is bound to get reflected in the regions
Win-win situation for BJP
Old warhorse: Karnataka BJP leader BS Yeddyurappa is again in the thick of things.

Radhika Ramaseshan
Senior journalist

ONLY an inveterate optimist in the Congress will believe that ‘some revelation’ or the ‘Second Coming’ are at hand, to tweak WB Yeats’ The Second Coming. As the Congress’ centre, bereft of a command structure, unravels faster than expected, with no falconer to hear the falcon, the worst casualties are the handful of provincial governments administered by the party independently or in alliance with the regional parties. Barring Punjab, governed by one of the strongest Congress satraps whose authority remains unchallenged, and Rajasthan where it can take comfort from the numbers that have thwarted the rivalry between the top two leaders from triggering a cataclysm, the other Congress governments look vulnerable. 

The Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) coalition government in Karnataka is clinging to the last straw it can clutch at — the Assembly Speaker’s office. The legislators who quit stated resolutely that they have made up their minds to join the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which missed hitting the half-way mark of 112 in the May 2018 elections by just six MLAs. The BJP’s best-known state leader, former Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa, strained at the leash to procure the numbers and install his government twice in the past but failed because the coalition had an adept strategist in Congress leader DK Shivakumar, a troubleshooter. 

The BJP’s top brass adopted an expedient approach in the circumstances. The leaders never gave an impression that they had their fingers in the coalition mess or green-flagged Yeddyurappa’s exertions because it would show up Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP president Amit Shah as ‘power-hungry’ and prone to using machinations to dislodge the Opposition. However, the indications were if Yeddyurappa ‘succeeded’ in toppling the Congress-JD (S) government, he would be lauded for his exertions and installed in the top job in Bengaluru. If he failed — as he did in the recent past — no skin off Delhi’s nose. It was passed off as the ambitions of an ageing regional chieftain playing out. 

The scenario before and after the Lok Sabha elections was qualitatively different in Karnataka. Last December, the Congress looked like it had partially levelled the electoral playing field nationally with the BJP, after winning three state elections and by emerging as a close competitor to the BJP in Gujarat in 2017. The choppy Bengaluru dispensation, made choppier by the refusal of the Congress’ provincial satraps such as Siddharamaiah and Shivakumar to accept the leadership of the JD(S)’s HD Kumaraswamy, attained a modicum of stability, induced by the buoyancy that the parliamentary polls might end the Modi rule. That gone, things began unravelling. Siddharamaiah started to act up and allegedly instigated his allegiants in the Congress to rebel. There was a tacit directive that they were free to seek greener pastures (read the BJP). Siddharamaiah had revealed his changing colours by covertly backing Sumalatha Ambereesh, an Independent, from the prestigious Mandya seat against the JD(S)’s Nikhil Gowda, Kumaraswamy’s son. It seemed Shivakumar’s legendary skills at realpolitik faded away as he was left to fight a lonely battle to save the Congress’ dwindling flock from leaving. 

It’s expedient for the Congress-JD(S) alliance to accuse the BJP of poaching and predations, but does that form the kernel of the Karnataka saga? The reality is the BJP is fishing in troubled waters like any honest-to-goodness Opposition party would in similar circumstances. The Congress did, when the BJP was in dire straits in Gujarat after it first came to power in 1995. Under the helmsmanship of Sitaram Kesri, the Congress first forced a leadership change in the BJP, engineered a split, dislodged the incumbent government and finally instated one of its choice. 

In the absence of  the proverbial ‘high command’, hanging in the balance after Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s resignation and the failure to anoint a successor so far, it seems as though the regional leaders have emerged as power centres unto themselves. In any case, Siddharamaiah is not a true-blue Congressman. He was in the JD(S) until he fell out with the party’s founder and former PM HD Deve Gowda and migrated. He lost an election, painfully accepted the alliance with the JD(S) because the ‘high command’ wanted it but never allowed it to get on with governance. 

To the rebel MLAs, the BJP’s stellar showing in Karnataka in the Lok Sabha polls was perhaps the last straw. It proved that neither the Congress nor the JD(S) were prospective winners in the foreseeable future, singly or in partnership. Living with an unsteady coalition and with the sword of a mid-term election that Siddharamaiah might have forced on them hanging over their heads, the legislators, who have four years to go before the next scheduled election, exercised the best choice they could in the situation. Facilitate the formation of a BJP government, live less precariously until 2023 and secure their futures. Remember, the cost of fighting an election is huge in the southern states, except Kerala.

However, it’s not just a question of mapping one’s immediate future. The BJP’s national pole position is unlikely to be challenged in the time to come by the Congress or the regional parties.  Its dominance at the Centre is bound to get reflected in the regions. Notice how Goa was quick to go the Karnataka way, when on July 10, 10 of the 15 Congress MLAs, shepherded by the Opposition leader, Chandrakant Kavale, walked over to the BJP. The BJP needs the numbers in the Assembly (it was not the single largest party in the last election in 2012) and importantly, to bolster its bench strength in the Rajya Sabha and have critical Bills passed. 

The Modi-Shah slogan, ‘Congress-mukt Bharat’, has implications that transcend rhetoric. It might usher in an era of an Opposition-less parliamentary democracy. The worst casualty is the anti-defection law that is apparently helpless in thwarting ambitions, facilitating defections and giving succour to the susceptible.

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