Karnataka’s dance of the dragons has just begun. It promises to be spectacular from the inside and nuanced on the outside. Like they say in a Housie game, ‘Eyes down for the next number’. Tamanna Naseer examines whether the alliance will hold and how!
Now that the Congress and Janata Dal (Secular) have joined hands to govern Karnataka for the next five years, the question is who will have the upper hand, and what about the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) waiting in the wings for an opportunity to break the new alliance?
The Grand Old Party has the greater number of MLAs but the chief minister’s chair has gone to JD(S)’ HD Kumaraswamy - a man who was in the Opposition during the previous Siddaramaiah-led Congress government and often at loggerheads with its policies.
Kumaraswamy would want to do things in his own style, and that might mean amending some legislations passed by the previous government, mainly the Private Medical Establishment Bill and the ‘anti-superstition’ Bill.
Amend and implement
Last November, the state Assembly unanimously passed the Karnataka Private Medical Establishment (Amendment) Bill, 2017, after diluting its penal provisions. This was done following protests by doctors and owners of private hospitals and nursing homes, who termed the proposed jail-term clause for medical negligence in the Bill as “draconian”.
Kumaraswamy had then said that the Bill created a “trust deficit” between the government and private medical establishments. He had also expressed reservations about government doctors and hospitals being kept out of the Bill’s purview.
It is now expected that as chief minister, the JD(S) leader might want to revisit the legislation and make it stronger.
Dr PS Jayaramu, a senior fellow at Indian Council of Social Science Research, said as much. “The JD(S) might want to touch this [the Bill] now. However, the first thing they will do is take out a few points from the Congress manifesto and a few from the JD(S) one and work towards a common minimum programme.”
The other matter comes up against the new chief minister’s belief in astrology and related practices. In the run-up and even after the recent Assembly polls, Kumaraswamy was often seen frequenting temples and is believed to be not just spiritual but superstitious too, unlike his predecessor Siddaramaiah.
The Siddaramaiah government had last year also introduced the Prevention and Eradication of Inhuman Evil Practices and Black Magic Bill, 2017, popularly known as the ‘anti-superstition’ Bill, despite facing resistance from many quarters, including the Congress. A diluted version of the Bill was passed in the legislature, to help “combat and eradicate other inhuman, evil sinister practices propagated in the name of so-called supernatural or magical power or evil spirit commonly known as black magic by conmen with sinister motive of exploiting the common people in the society and thereby destroying the very social fabric of the society...”
It is now Kumaraswamy’s responsibility to implement the Bill, which has not yet been notified and the rules for which are yet to be framed. How keen he will be to do that remains to be seen.
Make or break
While the likely alterations to laws may cause some heartburn in the Congress, which passed them, the two allies have to keep their boat steady at least until the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. For, if they fall apart, there would be only one clear winner: the BJP.
Congress leader Santosh Lad accepted that both allies will have their “own stand on things” but expressed confidence that, in spite of the difficulties of running a coalition government, the committees formed by the new government would deal with the contentious issues.
Jayaramu did not seem that hopeful, though. “It is vague to think that both parties will complete five years in power in Karnataka. They are saying it, but it is not possible. However, they will put prickly issues like the anti-superstition bill in cold storage at least till the 2019 polls,” he said. The Congress and the JD(S) are already treading with caution so as not to make mistakes. “For the third front [ahead of the 2019 polls], our unity is important,” JD(S) leader BM Farooq said. “[JDS supremo] Deve Gowdaji is leading the third front in a way. Congress’ Siddaramaiah and [deputy chief minister] G Parameshwara there, and Deve Gowdaji here will handle the situation if any conflict arises.”
Reports of differences among both parties over the allotment of portfolios have surfaced and settled and stories of leaders being upset to have also emerged. Members from both the parties accepted that there were some MLAs who were disgruntled. But they don’t see the BJP gaining from the situation in any way. “We are not scared of them. We are working towards meeting our goals while respecting the challenges of a coalition front,” Lad said.
Kumaraswamy, soon after assuming charge as chief minister, had made a controversial statement that he was working at the mercy of the Congress. He had even refused to state when he will waive off the loans of farmers. But that fire too was doused swiftly as he met farmers’ representatives to discuss several issues in Bengaluru.
Eye on BJP
The BJP, according to reports, is still preying on the alliance’s MLAs while a senior party leader underlined that they won’t have to do much to break the new government as “JD(S) and Congress will not keep their troubles hidden for long”.
Jayaramu pointed out that “the BJP will calculate all its options and not do anything to spoil its image. If they get a favourable verdict in 2019, they will put all their weight here [in Karnataka]”. Reports have suggested that B Sriramulu--mining lord and BJP’s Ballari MP--is in touch with first-time Congress and JD(S) MLAs. But Farooq dismissed the rumours as baseless. “All MLAs are happy where they are. They also don’t want another election,” he said.
Analysts believe that both parties will promote ideals like secularism and shun the BJP’s Hindutva agenda as and when required. To defeat the saffron party, the Congress and JD(S) perhaps need to look beyond the caste-based lens and focus on socio-economic policies. “All eyes are on 2019. But it is too early to say anything. We are not exactly thinking on those lines now,” Lad insisted.
Where the new alliance needs to focus on
• Agreement on private medical establishment Bill and ‘anti-superstition’ Bill
• Heartburn among MLAs over portfolios
• BJP attempts to break the government
• Unity for probable third front
• Socio-economic policies and not caste
KT Exclusive: Supreme Court let us down, says BSY
BS Yeddyurappa, the poster boy of BJP in Karnataka has been controversy’s child. Despite having climbed the ladder of success as an activist fighting for the cause of the poor, his rise to power had always been tumultuous and his previous stint as the Chief Minister of Karnataka in a JD(S)-BJP coalition government left an irreversible dent on his image. After having landed behind bars on charges of corruption to falling out with his original political party BJP to forming his own political party called KJP and then reconciling with the BJP, Yeddyurappa has seen many ups and down. Though the 2018 polls were thought to be an easy walk to power, the BJP could not realise its dream of planting BJP flag on Kannada soil. Despite emerging as the single largest party and then going on to take oath as Chief Minister, BSY’s glory lasted only for 55-hours as he was obliged to resign from the post, as he could not muster the required numbers on the floor of the Legislative Assembly to consolidate his position. He fell short by a mere eight seats.
BSY will go down the pages of history for being the CM for the shortest term, i.e. 55 hours, breaking his own record of seven days in 2007! As he watched the outcome of the cliff-hanger Assembly poll results turn in favour of the Congress and the JD(S) and HD Kumaraswamy becoming Chief Minister in a Congress-JD(S) coalition government, he shared a few thoughts with Karnataka Today’s Ashok Shetty.
# Though Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP national President have been pressing for a ‘Congress Mukt Bharath’, you seem to be more aggressive against the JD(S) and not the Congress. What is the reason?
Well, I will not talk about the Congress party because I know fully well that the JD(S) will finish the Congress! An alliance with the JD(S) itself will prove suicidal for the Congress. Just wait and watch how the JD(S) manages to finish the Congress. My target is the JD(S) and the opportunist politics played by the father and sons (HD Devegowda and his sons HD Kumaraswamy and Revanna).
# You seemed to be very confident about proving the majority in the house. What strategies went wrong at the last minute that you refused to take the floor test?
Yes, we were hundred percent confident of proving the majority. It is true that I had approached a couple of MLAs and they had promised support. But, the Supreme Court order had an adverse impact on our strategies. We were short of time and we were not in a position to go ahead. The Apex Court let us down largely by setting 24-hour deadline.
# How do you intend to take on this government in coming days?
The BJP will function as a formidable opposition and it will not allow this government to take unilateral or anti-people decisions. As the first step, we have set a 24 hours deadline to this government to waive off crop loans availed by the farmers. We are determined to expose the unholy nexus between the Congress and the JD(S)- both inside as well as outside the Assembly. We will protest against the government whenever and wherever it becomes necessary.
# Considering the past equations of the Congress and the JD(S), do you feel this government will complete its term?
I will wait for the cabinet expansion of the Kumaraswamy government. I will refrain from making any statement on the life of this coalition government till then. It is during the cabinet expansion that the state will get a clear picture about the continuity of the government. I will wait for a full-fledged government to be in place.
# Do you think claiming stake to form the government by you was a hurried decision?
No, I don’t think so, it was not a hurried decision or misadventure of the party. Being a single largest party, it was our legitimate right to form the government and we only did that. If we had not taken that decision, our passiveness too could have sent out a very wrong message. According to me, the party has taken the right decision and it was a collective decision of the party both at Central and state-level.
# You had earlier said that the BJP will win 120 seats and you could manage to reach only 104. In at least ten places, the BJP lost with a very narrow margin. Where do you think the party went wrong?
True, we did not expect defeat in few seats. It was unexpected and also shocking for the party to lose those seats that too with such a narrow margin. We have introspected these cases. Financial crunch was not a factor at all. What more can I say, it was just unfortunate that we lost at least a dozen seats with less than a thousand votes.