Credibility crisis

Published : Nov 16, 2007 00:00 IST

At a rally in Bangalore on October 7, against the JD(S)s betrayal, B.S. Yeddyurappa, BJP State president Sadananda Gowda, national general secretary H.N. Anantha Kumar and former Irrigation Minister K.S. Eswarappa. - V. SREENIVASA MURTHY

At a rally in Bangalore on October 7, against the JD(S)s betrayal, B.S. Yeddyurappa, BJP State president Sadananda Gowda, national general secretary H.N. Anantha Kumar and former Irrigation Minister K.S. Eswarappa. - V. SREENIVASA MURTHY

The JD(S)-BJP attempt to form a government in Karnataka two weeks after a bitter separation is seen as a betrayal of the peoples mandate.

At a rally

COALITION politics in Karnataka, currently in a serious crisis of credibility, may yet get a fresh lease of life, with Governor Rameshwar Thakur expected to invite an alliance of the Janata Dal (Secular) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) back to power again. This is perhaps one of those rare junctures in democratic practice when the solution to a political crisis, constitutionally speaking, calls for a set of measures that appear to be in conflict with the public perception of political fair play and morality.

Unabashed political opportunism and power play from the principal actors in the drama have, in the past few weeks, provided endless fodder for 24-hour news channels, which captured the sordid developments blow by blow for an increasingly disillusioned public. The re-alliance between the JD(S) and the BJP, just two weeks after a bitter separation, and their joint claim to form the government on the basis of the majority they command in a 224-member Legislative Assembly, is in the public perception a cynical betrayal of the peoples mandate for a stable government.

No sooner had the ink dried on the October 9 presidential proclamation imposing Presidents Rule in the State than factions within the Congress, the JD(S) and the BJP began moves for a fresh alliance. The Assembly was placed in suspended animation in accordance with Article 356 (3) of the Constitution, which lays down that dissolution must be approved by both Houses of Parliament within 60 days of the proclamation of Presidents rule. The winter session of Parliament was to have considered the matter when it met in early November.

While the State units of the JD(S), the BJP and the Congress officially supported the dissolution of the Assembly, legislators of these parties, including leaders and former Ministers, were opposed to fresh elections 20 months ahead of schedule. Back-room negotiations commenced and factions of the three parties sent feelers to legislators to get the numbers required to stake a claim to form the government.

The moves for a new grouping were fuelled by two factors. The first was the Governors statement in New Delhi just days after the imposition of Presidents Rule, in which he said the field was open for a fresh regrouping to stake its claim. The second was the delay of about two weeks by the Governor in the appointment of advisers. In both these acts, the non-Congress parties saw the subtle encouragement of a possible Congress-led alliance of parties that could form the government.

The stakes in the political game are evidently the highest for the BJP and its leader B.S. Yeddyurappa, who did not hide his devastation at the last-minute refusal of the JD(S) to hand over power to the party, denying him the chance of becoming the first Chief Minister of the first BJP government in the South. Yeddyurappa never hid his over-weaning desire for chief ministership when he was Deputy Chief Minister in the H.D. Kumaraswamy-led government.

The BJP decided to cash in on a strong sympathy factor created by the JD(S)s refusal to abide by the agreement that bound the coalition. On October 7, the party took out a large procession, which culminated in a protest rally in Bangalore, at the Gandhi Statue in the central district of the city, where BJP leaders fulminated against the betrayal.

Following Kumaraswamys resignation on October 8, the BJP launched a Dharmayudha Yatra, comprising processions, rallies and demonstrations, to be held in all district centres. The Yatra was to culminate in another protest rally in Bangalore on November 5. Vachana Bhrashta (breaker of promises) was the epithet the BJP coined to describe Kumaraswamy.

The JD(S) put up its own defence though a less spirited performance of the decision not to transfer power to the BJP. Kumaraswamy and his father, the national president of the JD(S) H.D. Deve Gowda, went on a media offensive against the BJP. Their main contention was that the BJP was trying to convert the State into a Hindutva laboratory, a claim that hit a sympathetic chord, coming as it did when a sting operation by Tehelka magazine had unmasked details of how the Sangh Parivar planned the 2002 riots in Gujarat aided by a sympathetic BJP regime.

To counter the Dharmayudha Yatra, Kumaraswamy and Merajuddin Patel, State president of the JD(S), called a Vilasa Yatra, a 1,000-km-long padayatra from Kudala Sangama in Bijapur district in the north to M.M. Hills in Chamarajanagar district in the south, during which the leaders planned to counter the BJP campaign against them.

However, they soon called off the plan and instead the party took out full-page advertisements in local newspapers, in which it explained the reasons for not handing over power to the BJP.

In the 18 days between October 9, when the State came under Presidents Rule, and October 27, when the JD(S) and the BJP went to the Governor armed with letters from 129 legislators staking their claim to form the government, feverish behind-the-scenes negotiations and deal-cutting took place among party factions.

A few days into Presidents Rule and there was intense speculation, which found its way into the media, of a possible Congress-JD(S) realignment with the blessings of the central Congress leadership. Several Congress leaders in the State hinted at the possibility, with M.V. Rajashekharan, Union Minister of State for Planning, even stating on October 13 in Mysore that a secular government could be formed soon in the State. He expressed his willingness to head such a formation if asked. The State leadership of the party had to issue a statement asking its leaders to desist from making statements on government formation.

Both Kumarswamy and Deve Gowda refuted the rumours of a JD(S)-Congress tie-up as false. In an interview to Frontline, Deve Gowda spoke emphatically against any alliance with either the Congress or the BJP, and, in fact, expressed his desire to forge ties with his erstwhile allies, the Left parties.

Indeed, Deve Gowda further set at rest speculation that he was seeking a rapprochement with the Congress through a letter he sent on October 24 to President Pratibha Patil, Governor Rameshwar Thakur, Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. In the letter he sought speedy dissolution of the Karnataka Assembly, arguing that a prolonged state of suspended animation would encourage horse-trading. He called for fresh elections as soon as possible.

The next serious attempt at government formation was made by former State Home Minister M.P. Prakash, who left for Delhi on October 23 with about 14 legislators to meet the central Congress leadership and explore the possibility of an alliance with the Congress.

He met Home Minister Shivraj Patil, treasurer of the All India Congress Committee Motilal Vohra, and Minister of State in the Prime Ministers Office Prithviraj Chauhan, among others. He reportedly told the Congress leadership that in addition to the 15 legislators who were with him, he could get the support of another 16, thus taking his support base to 31.

Prakashs initiative took the JD(S) leadership by surprise. Unclear and yet suspicious of Prakashs game plan, Kumaraswamy and Deve Gowda gave it their reluctant nod in the interest of party unity, as it appeared that Prakashs move had substantial support amongst JD(S) legislators, who were desperate to avoid elections. Had he firmed up an alliance with the Congress, he would have got even more legislators to his side.

Indeed, after initial hesitation, Kumaraswamy went public saying that the entire JD(S) contingent would support Prakash if he could swing a coalition arrangement in which the Congress supported Prakash as Chief Minister. A buoyed Prakash left for New Delhi again on October 26 to meet Congress leader Ahmed Patel and firm up such an alliance.

His undoing was his meeting on October 26, prior to his departure for New Delhi, with Siddaramaiah, Deputy Chief Minister for a time in the first coalition headed by N. Dharam Singh, who left the JD(S) to join the Congress after a bitter rift with Deve Gowda.

The meeting fuelled the rumours that had been doing the rounds in Bangalore for several days of large-scale pay-offs by a group of Congress leaders to JD(S) legislators in return for support for a new JD(S)-Congress combine that would exclude Deve Gowda, his family and supporters.

JD(S) leader M.P.

Events moved swiftly after that. According to JD(S) sources, a group of 12 legislators were taken by an anti-Deve Gowda group of Congress moneybags to a resort near Bangalore where they were promised ministerial berths and astronomical bribes if they broke from the party.

Getting wind of this from a loyalist within the group late in the night, and fearing that the blandishments offered by the Congress group would result in an exodus from his party, Kumaraswamy did a repeat performance of his February 2006 act. He called up Yeddyurappa and asked for his hand in forming yet another this time unconditional alliance.

Yeddyurappa and the BJP leadership immediately called off the Dharmayudha Yatra to reconcile and reunite with the party that had been at the receiving end of their vitriolic campaign. The very next day, October 27, the two parties submitted to the Governor individual letters signed by 129 legislators staking their claim to form the government under the leadership of Yeddyurappa.

Kumaraswamy went on another media offensive, this time even less convincing than on the previous occasion. I did it to save my party was the burden of his song. The Congress was out to break the JD(S) by luring away his legislators and he was only protecting his party, he said.

As if to prove the reality of this threat, Kumaraswamy moved his flock of legislators from one luxury resort to another in order to keep them away from the reach of those who could allegedly win them over with more attractive blandishments.

None of the three parties has emerged from this crisis unscathed. For the JD(S), which has handed over the government to the first communal party to come to power in Karnataka, the stain of opportunism and doublespeak will not be easy to erase. The shifting statements of party leaders carry little credibility. For instance, while Kumaraswamy and Merajuddin Patel went on record saying that their support to the BJP was unconditional, on November 1 Deve Gowda put forward a set of 12 fresh conditions that he said must form the written bedrock of the new arrangement.

Congress leaders wait

In these are included the condition that the duration of the coalition will last only until the next Lok Sabha elections. The other conditions relate mainly to sharing of portfolios and to coalition conduct. At the same time, Deve Gowda also said that he would not withdraw, and that he continued to stand by, his letter of October 24 to the President calling for the dissolution of the House and fresh elections.

The main reason that Deve Gowda and Kumaraswamy gave for not transferring power to the BJP on October 9 was the fear that the BJP would turn the State into a Hindutva laboratory. The threat of that happening now seems to have receded for them.

A euphoric BJP, which sees power finally within its reach, has been in permanent Dharmayudha mode since October 7. Once the deal was made, the campaign against the treachery of the JD(S) (this did not prevent Yeddyurappa from rushing back to Bangalore by helicopter from Tumkur on the day the campaign was inaugurated when he was told of a possible patch-up with the JD-S) quickly re-focussed its energies on a new slogan, namely, the defence of democracy.

Anticipating the imminent dissolution of the Assembly, the party had hoped to turn to its electoral advantage the public sympathy generated by the denial of power to it by the JD(S). It was for this reason that the Dharmayudha was launched. The BJP leaders needed no persuasion to recreate the old alliance that they had so vehemently discredited. Now that the party has allied itself with the object of its public ridicule campaign, whatever little sympathy it had may well evaporate.

The Congress, too, must bear a good measure of responsibility for bringing the BJP to power by its refusal to distance itself from back-door negotiations to form the government. There was an evident lack of communication between the central leadership, which entertained overtures from the JD(S), and the State leadership, which appeared to be in the dark about the negotiations with the high command.

Finally, it was the attempt to split the JD(S) by a group of second-rung State Congress leaders with large coffers of money, which came largely from the real estate sector, that pushed the JD(S) leadership once again into the BJPs embrace. Constitutional correctness demands that the Governor invite the party or coalition that has the numbers to form the government. Politically opportunist the JD(S)-BJP re-marriage may be, but denying the alliance the right to form the government will plunge the State into yet another crisis.

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