This pungent remark of American columnist Doug Larson puts the ongoing ‘natak’ (drama) in Karnataka in right perspective: “Instead of giving a politician the keys to the city, it might be better to change the locks.”
Yes, this is the story of Karnataka politics today. Politics in the state seems to be having a love affair with number 13: On July 7, 13 dissident MLAs of the ruling combine – 10 from the Congress and three from Janata Dal (Secular) — threatened to pull down the HD Kumaraswamy-led coalition government. It was only 13 months ago that the Congress, despite superior numbers, decided to back a JD(S)-led government to keep the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at bay.
The resignations put a question mark on the longevity of the government. Many leaders in Karnataka’s ruling combine blame the BJP for orchestrating this crisis and accuse the saffron party of watching these developments only too eager to form its own government.
However, within hours one was not sure how many disgruntled MLAs have pulled the plug on the state government. That’s because the number of MLAs who submitted their resignations to the Speaker on July 6 (Saturday) afternoon and met Governor Vajubhai Vala at the Raj Bhavan before being flown out to Mumbai was 11: eight Congress and three JDS. To make the confusion worse confounded, the number of MLAs who flew out to Mumbai was 10!
The numbers matter because the coalition government has a wafer thin majority in the assembly.
The Congress-JDS combine had 118 members, including one from the Bahujan Samaj Party and one Independent member, in the 224-seat assembly. The July 6 mass resignations will bring the ruling combine’s numbers down to 105 and the majority mark in the assembly from 113 to 106. The BJP, with its 105 MLAs, is literally breathing down the coalition’s neck — it always has.
The dramatic developments have forced Chief Minister Kumaraswamy to cut short his private trip to the United States and return to Bengaluru. Predictably, the Congress has played down the crisis and its former CM Siddaramaiah has put up a brave face saying, “There is no threat to the coalition government. It is safe.”
Mallikarjun Kharge, who incidentally is among the senior Congress leaders whose name is doing the rounds to be the next Congress President, said the party is in still in touch with the rebels and will get a clear picture on the July 12, when the assembly session begins.
For his part, Speaker Ramesh Kumar is in no hurry and said he would look at the latest batch of resignations only after he returns to work on July 9.
The incident has inevitably charged the political climate with the Congress accusing the BJP of choreographing the mass resignations and taking the rebel MLAs to Mumbai, a charge that the BJP has rejected. The Congress has also said BJP leaders visited the hotel where the MLAs were staying.
Worse for the BJP, it has been found that the chartered plane in which 10 dissident MLAs flew from Bengaluru to Mumbai belongs to Jupiter Capital Private Limited, a company associated with Rajeev Chandrasekhar, a BJP MP.
Chandrasekhar is the founder and chairman of the company. The Congress chorus of “BJP did it” has been led by Siddaramaiah, Kharge and Karnataka water resource minister DK Shivakumar. Congress spokesperson KE Radhakrishna has gone on record with his allegation that the conspiracy to bring down the coalition government was planned a week earlier, when rebel JDS MLA AH Vishwanath went to Delhi and met BJP leaders there.
The Karnataka crisis has erupted at a time when a void has been created in the Congress after Rahul Gandhi’s resignation as Congress President.
Clearly, the BJP has moved in quickly for a kill. If the Karnataka political match ends up like a one-sided cricket match and the Congress surrenders meekly to the BJP, then it will be curtains for other Congress-ruled states as well. Karnataka was the low-hanging fruit. Only the BJP delayed its picking.
If Karnataka falls to the saffron party, the Congress should brace itself for a similar treatment in Madhya Pradesh also where the BJP is dangerously close to the Congress in the assembly, as far as the numbers go.
Whatever the final outcome, the Karnataka development is a bad advertisement for politics as a profession. More than 2,600 years ago, Greek fabulist Aesop had wryly remarked: “We hang the petty thieves and appoint the great ones to public office.” Aesop’s words are still relevant as evidenced by this thought of the current US President Donald Trump: “One of the key problems today is that politics is such a disgrace, good people don’t go into government.”
The Karnataka political drama has once again shown why politics continues to be seen as an arena of opportunists, manipulators self-seekers, and not for nation-builders!
# Rajeev Sharma is a senior journalist and political analyst. Twitter: @Kishkindha. Views are personal.