The BJP doesn’t have too many options in Karnataka
The BJP is faced with one of two choices: go in with Yeddyurappa’s urgency; or wait for the parliamentary polls, after which the coalition partners might undermine themselves.
Ever since the Karnataka assembly elections in 2018 threw up a hung house, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which emerged as the single largest party with 104 seats in the 224-member assembly, has been unhappy at its inability to establish a government in Bengaluru.
First, as the single largest party with a friendly governor, the BJP’s BS Yeddyurappa was sworn in as the 23rd chief minister of the state even though the Congress and Janata Dal (Secular) also staked a claim. However, while the governor had allowed the BJP 15 days to prove its majority on the floor of the assembly, a Supreme Court ruling cut short that time to two days. This crippled the party’s efforts to cobble together a majority. Yeddyurappa had to resign within 48 hours of being sworn in. His stint as chief minister was one of the shortest ever.
The BJP has been sulking even as the Congress-JD(S) coalition government, which was sworn in on May 23, 2018,stumbles from one crisis to another. After waiting for nearly seven months to see whether the coalition would fall under the weight of its own contradictions, Yeddyurappa, who turned 75 last year, has realised that time is running out. After the 2019 general elections, circumstances may not be as propitious at the Centre for him to mount an attempt to unseat the coalition government in the state, and so he has made the current effort.
For the BJP, having a government in Karnataka is important for a few reasons. Smarting from the electoral setbacks in the Hindi heartland — where it lost power to the Congress in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh — the party wants to deprive its key national opponent of states from which resources can be mobilised for the national battle. It would also help the BJP re-establish a beachhead in the south for only the second time ever.
The BJP realises that breaking a third of the 80-member strong Congress Legislature Party in the assembly — to escape the anti-defection law — will not be easy. However it is targeting the Congress, and not the 37 legislators of the JD(S), for a reason: For any JD(S) legislator, the appeal of the BJP is negligible. This is because almost all JD(S) MLAs have won from southern Karnataka, where the BJP is not much of a player.
Also in the past, the JD(S)’s first family, led by Deve Gowda and his sons, campaigned against any defector and because of their hold on fellow Vokkaliga caste-men, they have been able to get them defeated. So the JD(S) MLAs are out of bounds, which leaves the BJP to target mainly the Congress MLAs.
Even with the support of two independents, the BJP will have 106 MLAs. It will have to convince at least 13 more to resign from the assembly to bring down the strength to 211 and claim a majority. This may not prove to be an easy task. So the BJP will be hoping that enough number of legislators quit so that there is an atmosphere of uncertainty and they can then ask for President’s rule. For the saffron party, the worry will be that the Karnataka coalition partners will not only go to the judiciary but will also hit the streets crying subversion of democracy.
In the 2014 parliamentary elections, the BJP had won 17 of the state’s 28 Lok Sabha seats. It will aim to at least repeat that performance in 2019. If the Congress-JD(S) coalition government is dismissed or dislodged, it will be worried about a backlash. The BJP is thus faced with one of two choices: go in with Yeddyurappa’s urgency; or wait for the parliamentary polls, after which the coalition partners might undermine themselves.
First Published: Jan 17, 2019 07:56:11