Analysis | SC verdict leaves Congress-JD(S) and BJP happy in Karnataka

Karnataka CM HD Kumaraswamy.

Forget India’s loss in the cricket World Cup. Politics today is the TRP driver for television channels and invites clicks on news portals. You’d agree if you are remotely interested in politics and either live in Karnataka or are interested in checking where the Karnataka politics is headed, with a coalition government always being in news over its tumultuous existence ever since JD(S) and Congress forged an alliance to grab power in the state nearly 14 months ago.

On Wednesday, the much-awaited Supreme Court ruling is out on the matter of 15 rebel MLAs who have submitted their resignation to Karnataka Assembly Speaker Ramesh Kumar. The court has upheld the discretion of the speaker in the matter of accepting resignations of the ‘rebel’ MLAs and said the issue should be settled within a certain time frame, without specifying what the ‘certain’ part of it means. One would wonder if that would mean days, or weeks or months.

The chances of Karnataka coalition government surviving this tight rope for long (read days/weeks) look too bleak at the moment owing to the fact that the party whip does not apply to the rebel MLAs, giving them a benefit of doubt.

Thursday being the day when Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy has to seek the trust vote, the Supreme Court exempted the rebel MLAs from being compelled to be present in the Assembly. All of them at the moment are housed in a resort, along with BJP honchos.

Karnataka Speaker Ramesh Kumar.
Karnataka Speaker Ramesh Kumar.

Disqualification awaits 'rebel' MLAs?

The Supreme Court verdict has two sides to it, and that has made both warring parties happy. If the trust vote is held on Thursday, and the current government does not get the required number of votes in its favour, it is bound to fall. But that does not make the rebel MLAs happy because there is an anti-defection law that is waiting to cut short their ‘illustrious’ careers as people’s representatives.

The speaker, a man who has deep knowledge of the Constitution and the rule book, may go ahead and disqualify the rebel MLAs who have submitted their resignations.

And the BJP may not court them for too long after their utility is over.

Karnataka's BJP president B S Yeddyurappa.
Karnataka's BJP president B S Yeddyurappa.

Who will lead BJP if government falls?

But well within the BJP, things are not fine either. Even if the coalition government falls, BJP has to keep their president B S Yeddyurappa in good books for some time for many reasons. One being he commands a good voter support from the Lingayat community, who have stood by him since 2008 as he is seen as ‘their leader’. Should he be replaced for whatever reasons, even under the guise of him voluntarily giving up the seat for the sake of any other leader, the Lingayat vote base may well turn their focus to another party over a period of time. But BJP cannot take that risk since Lingayats are among the crucial segment of population in Karnataka alongside Vokkaligas, Kurubas and other assorted communities who, owing to their sheer numbers, can vote a government to power based on who from their own community will get the top chair.

But then, age is not on Yeddyurappa’s side to be nominated or to continue in the seat of power. He had quit BJP once and floated his own party called Karnataka Janata Paksha or KJP, and eventually merged it with BJP after he was offered the top post.

As per BJP’s own policy, leaders cannot occupy a power position after they have crossed 75 years. Yeddyurappa is now 76. Even if the exception is made in this case, the strong dissident voices within BJP, who are not in favour of Yeddyurappa, may sooner or later begin to voice their opinion causing the party a major embarrassment.

The fact that BL Santosh, whose abhorrence for Yeddyurappa is well known, was elevated to the post of organisation general secretary (National) says a lot about which side the wind would turn in the coming days.

This apart, Yeddyurappa himself was remanded in judicial custody three years ago, in a case involving allegations of corruption when he was the chief minister. BJP would like to improve its image without losing too much of the voter base, before it selects its next chief minister, should the coalition government fall.

Even if the rebel MLAs are given some goodies in exchange of their ‘loyalty’ for helping the BJP clinch its dream government in Karnataka, keeping them happy forever will be a challenge for the top leadership as they are not saffron loyalists.

One of the prominent voices among the ‘rebel’ MLAs, H Viswanath, has said the MLAs who are miffed with the government will not appear for the trust vote on Thursday.

This puts the whole thing in a fresh quandary again. While the Speaker has the freedom to exercise his discretion, any decision may tilt the chances of the coalition government’s survival. While minister D K Shivakumar is trying his best to bring about some truce and is wielding the threat of disqualification against the rebel MLAs, nothing seems to have made a cut so far.

This is like a suspense thriller leading into unending twists and turns till time runs out. Whatever be the case, Karnataka, known for its value-based politics during the 1980s forging bonds with national politics while the neighbouring states opted for regional or Left parties, is now staring at a very uncertain future. This is the kind of NOTA a voter couldn’t have envisaged for his own vote, by the people he/she voted for.

(Preethi Nagaraj is an independent journalist and political analyst based in Karnataka)

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