Vote of confidence will decide the state’s political fate
The Janata Dal Secular-Congress coalition government in Karnataka is on the cusp of entering the final phase of its battles with Governor Vajubhai Vala, read the BJP government at the Centre, and the Supreme court, on Monday.
And nobody in Karnataka, at least, will consider this as Monday Blues because the leaders of the coalition have been facing it almost daily during the last three weeks.
That it is in the form of “aspirational” MLAs, keen on deserting a floating ship, is not exactly accidental.
The coalition government, headed by chief minister HD Kumaraswamy, will be facing the final day of the discussion on the vote of confidence in the strange circumstances of the Supreme Court hearing two petitions.
One petition is seeking a clarification on the very fulcrum of the anti-defection law in the country, the whip and whether it does not take away the right of a political party to initiate action against an MLA who is violating party discipline.
The second petition relates to the question whether a Governor can set a deadline to a chief minister to complete the process of vote of confidence particularly when the chief minister has already moved the vote of confidence of his own accord in the assembly.
The coalition government, in a sense, received a double whammy when Governor Vala set the two deadlines on Friday, first at 1.30 pm and then again at end of day, to the chief minister to complete the vote of confidence.
This came soon after the Supreme Court in its order said that the 15 MLAs, who had resigned, were free to abstain from attending the assembly session.
It clearly meant that the whip, which is the only power that a political party has to prevent individual members from defecting, had been taken away by the court order.
On the floor of the assembly, it meant that the JDS-Congress combine would be reduced to 98 or 99 since it cannot exercise its power to prevent defection.
That is against the BJP’s number of 107 (105 of its own plus one Independent and another representative of a political outfit who had merged his party with the Congress to become a minister for 22 days).
A senior BJP legislator pointed out at the attendance register in the assembly lobby to say: “In the last two days, you can check and see that there are only 98 signatures of the members in the treasury benches. So, you will realise that the ruling combine has lost majority.”
It is not as if the ruling combine does not realise that it has lost the number game. Its operations managers have not got a chance to even speak to some of the rebel MLAs whose, in the last two days, has also been shifted from the Mumbai hotel.
“We know they have been shifted but it is obvious that they are not able to speak to anyone,” said one such Congressman.
But it has utilised the last two days of the assembly session to drive home the point that the BJP has been “greedy for power” as one BJP legislator himself put it.
In fact another legislator put it across differently while discussing the options before the Governor whose directions to the chief minister had ignored.
“We know that the Governor has sent his report to the Centre. Whether he has recommended keeping the Assembly under suspended animation or President’s rule is difficult to say. It would, any case, be decided by the Centre. But we hope the decision will come only after the vote is taken on the floor of the Assembly,” said a BJP legislator.
His reasoning is that any haste in getting rid of the JDS-Congress coalition “is bound to hurt our image at the national level as a party hungry for power. If we had left it free, this government would have gone on its own. In some ways, we have become the cementing force for this coalition.”
But this cement is not of a quality that can bind two bitter rivals who came together in May 2018 due to a decision of the Rahul Gandhi-led Congress. The party wanted to put an end to the ‘Congress-mukt Bharat’ campaign of the BJP and, in the bargain, rode over the feelings of the partymen in Karnataka.
Moreover southern Karnataka is the base of the JDS. The two coalition partners are not just rivals but very bitter ones at that for the last four decades.
To a large extent, the bitterness has been carried forward in even releasing developmental funds to a constituency that has chosen a Congress candidate.
Add to that the factional fight within the Congress and a lackadaisical approach to administration created a number of loyal partymen to get disgruntled and turn into rebels.
It is this intelligence gathering of the frustrated legislators and touching base with them with the right bait that made Operation Kamala 4.0 a success unlike the other two attempts by the state unit of the party.
Monday will also give an indication as to how the BJP will treat its tallest leader in Karnataka who brought the party to power in Karnataka in 2008, BS Yeddyurappa.
His close associates indicate that he will be the chief minister if the party bosses, rather the only boss and union home minister, Amit Shah, do not impose President’s rule in Karnataka for the customary six months.