HDK IN TROUBLE: CM in trouble in Karnataka, but coalition arrangement with Congress may continue despite odds

NEWSLETTER / KARNATAKA

BENGALURU: The Congress-JDU government in Karnataka is caught in an existential crisis, with the BJP apparently trying to topple the HD Kumaraswamy-led dispensation that took office after the assembly polls in May 2018. Chances of defection are high from the Congress side, though the party is putting on a brave front and claiming that it would overcome the present crisis. Speculations are rife that the ministry will continue in the same form until the Lok Sabha polls and that the Congress would demand CM post after this. 

Notably, communal equations favour the present JDS-Congress alliance, and if the two remain together, the BJP will have difficulty in winning a good number of seats from Karnataka this time. The BJP had won 17 of the 28 seats last time, while the Congress got 9 and the JDS 2. Under the circumstances, both the Congress and the JDS are keen on carrying the alliance forward.

The present crisis saw a small set of Congress MLAs unhappy over the party ignoring them in a  cabinet expansion reportedly turned to the BJP to pull down the government. Amid chances of horse-trading, the BJP – the largest party in the assembly – too moved its MLAs out of the state capital to safe destinations. It showed the seriousness of the political crisis.

What has accentuated this crisis is the lack of team-spirit among the alliance partners. Feelings were often expressed by Chief Minister Kumaraswamy that he was not being given the respect that’s due to his position by the Congress leadership in the state. He says he’s being ordered around and treated like a clerk by the Congress members even within his ministry. Ministers of the Congress side take decisions without consulting him, he has stated. 

The Congress has larger share of ministers in Karnataka cabinet by virtue of its strength in the state assembly. JDU led by the Chief Minister has no more than 37 MLAs in a house of 224, with the Congress winning 80 seats and the BJP towering over them with 104 seats. The Congress had polled 38 per cent of the votes, the JDS 18 per cent and the BJP 36 per cent. The post-poll coalition arrangement between the JDS and the Congress led to the formation of the Kumaraswamy government, while the largest party, the BJP, was left sulking on the sidelines. However, while the JDS bargained and got the CM post, the Congress with its superior strength is in no mood to play second-fiddle to the JDS or the CM. The JDS exploited the Congress party’s keenness to keep the BJP out of power in the state and won the CM post.

The going has not been good between the JDS and the Congress from day one. Yet, the ministry survived also because the Congress didn’t want to pull it down for fear that the BJP would exploit the situation to its advantage. It however was no secret that BJP leader and former CM, BS Yeddyurappa was waiting for the first opportunity to pull down the government. A recent ministry expansion that left some senior leaders out in the cold apparently worked to the disadvantage of the Congress and dissentions came out in the open.

There are hagglings between the Congress and the JDS over sharing of parliamentary seats for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Notably, the communal arithmetic favours the present ruling coalition. Congress has major backing from the Dalits and the Muslims, while the JDS is essentially an enterprise of the Vokkaligas. Vokkaligas are engaged in a power tussle with the Lingayats, the main support base for the BJP in the state, and the community from which Yeddyurappa hails.

Former Congress chief minister Siddaramaiah, who got the Congress to win the largest share of votes in the last assembly polls but lost power, is an OBC. Dalits form about 20 per cent of the state’s population, while Kurabas of Siddaramaiah boasts of a population strength of seven per cent. Kurabas had been bracketed with SC-ST until recently, but is now part of the OBC. The Muslims and the OBCs form 16 per cent each. Prominent Congress leaders like Bangarappa too hailed from the OBC communities and the Congress has strong support from them as well. The Lingayats, traditional supporters of the BJP-RSS, form 14 per cent of the population while Vokkaligas 11 per cent. Vokkaligas are an OBC community. Brahmins and Christians form three per cent each. HD Deve Gowda, JDS founder leader and father of present CM, claims to be the first OBC Prime Minister, after which the next OBC PM is Narendra Modi.

Lingayats, though, are not wholly forward. There are Lingayat BCs and Lingayat SC-STS. Lingayats are bracketed as OBCs in the central list. In sum, the Lingayats formed of some 99 castes and sub-castes are demanding a separate religion statuts –as distinct from the Hindus. The Siddaramaiah government had sought such a status for the community through passage of a bill in the state assembly, but the matter rests with the Centre.

In the last assembly polls, Muslim votes got divided between the Congress and the JDS. The present JDS-Congress alliance was formed after the results were out in order to share power. It being the main rival to the Congress this time, Muslims are likely to vote for this alliance in toto, improving its winning chances in the upcoming LS polls. – IHN-NN
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