Politics of Karnataka

The July of 2019 saw the politics of Karnataka reach one of its lowest points. The Congress-JDS alliance government was about to fall – only that it wouldn’t.

With the resignations of the nearly 18 MLAs, the government had gone into a minority in the house and was legally ineligible to run the government of the state. The build up to this situation was also an embarrassment. Horse trading has become a word used too often in the political scenario of Karnataka. Politicians have a price at which they would switch sides and help form or falter governments. Its shameful – but not new.

The coalition had been sworn into governance just 14 months ago and was deemed an unhappy marriage. The ministers in the cabinet had descended to a bunch of squabbling pirates trying to seize power from one another. Greed was so obvious that ministers were changed within months and a visible policy paralysis in the state with barely any representation at the national level. The general election of 2019 made the point clearer when both JDS and Congress were reduced to a solitary seat out of the 27 contesting seats from the state.

All that being said, the BJP which by far had the best numbers – 105 of the 224 seats in the Karnataka assembly was about to succeed finally to form the government. BJP had by hook and crook managed to get the MLAs to resign – ofcourse there is no actual proof that BJP did this, but that’s not the question. The point of concern is, even after the JDS-Congress alliance government went into minority they stalled the proceedings of the house and when the time came to seek the trust vote, the Chief Minister and the parties in government took up almost 3 days – 3 working days and almost 7 non work days to bring on the trust vote. It was just shameful. The whole country was covering the news. Karnataka politics had sunk to a new low, and there was nothing we could do, the public was just a dead rubber duck in a stale tub of dirty bath water.

Finally the government fell on the 23rd of July and made way for the new government to be sworn in. It is at this point that my brother in law sent me a link to a Times of India article which read “Only 3 CMs have successfully completed their term in the history of Karnataka”

I clicked it.

It said, Nijalingappa, Devaraj Urs and Siddaramaiah were the only chief ministers who completed a full term. Ofcourse, it’s just Times of India, so you can expect them to be a little hyperbole. Firstly there were 2 other CMs who completed full terms, Ramakrishna Hegde and SM Krishna. Inside the article it does specify that they are only talking of Congress CM’s but still SM krishna was a congress CM and they conveniently overlooked him.

Leaving the factual error aside, it’s still an eyebrow raising point that of the 15 state assemblies, the state has had 22 Chief ministers, and only 5 of them have stayed the CM for the full term. Why is this?

The people of Karnataka always pride themselves as being different from the rest of the country. Even though there is no lack of patriotism towards the nation, we’ve always been different. Rather we’ve been somewhere in the middle. Unlike Kerala or Tamil nadu or Bengal who have traditionally had their own way of thinking and their own rule, Karnataka politics has interwoven itself into the national politics at many places and also maintains long blank spaces of disconnect.

While there are places where we want conformity with the center, we’ve also struggled to find our own autonomy. The BJP of Karnataka doesn’t speak the language spoken by the BJP of the hindi belt of country, nor does the congress indulge in excessive sycophancy to the Gandhi family; and finally unlike Tamil Nadu, we don’t have a strong regional push for autonomy. Like all humans, the state of Karnataka has always been struggling to find a middle ground and the perfect blend of moderation. So what do the politicians of Karnataka hold dear? Values? where do they get their values from? Are they as confused as any regular citizen of the state?

Nijalingappa and Devaraj Urs are hailed as the greatest leaders that the state has seen. Some even term Ramakrishna Hegde, a prodigi of Nijalingappa, as a big name too, but he was a little too well connected with the underground and mired in scams, so lets not give him a pass for now.

Now speaking of Nijalingappa, he was obviously the most powerful and incorruptible leaders of the states, he came to the position because of his initiatives and movements towards the unification of Karnataka. It was his moves that made Tamil Nadu and Kerala move resolutions in their states for letting go of Kannada territories.

Urs had a lot of achievements to his name, he was the one who changed the name of the state from Mysore to Karnataka, and he was the one who approved the creation of the electronic city in Bangalore. It is also known that his next of kin were also involved in the underground of Bangalore, but that never smeared his image as an efficient administrator and visionary of Karnataka.

Even after the big three, Karnataka saw a spell of stable government when SM Krishna was sworn in as 16th CM of Karnataka in 1999. His vision for Bangalore is also hailed even today in urban legends of Bangalore. However, SM Krishna’s term ended in 2004 and hence started the turbulent times in the politics of Karnataka – a trend that has been going on since then.

Since 2004, in the 15 years there have been 4 assemblies constituted out of which one was dissolved; 10 swearings of the CM, and 2 stints of President’s rule in the state. How did it all go down so fast?

It all started in 2004 HD Kumaraswamy first engineered a defection in 2006 to leave the Congress-JDS coalition to join hands with the BJP with an added incentive of becoming the CM of the state. The Congress-JDS government in the first place had a rocky relationship because of multiple factors, prominent among them being the unassertiveness of CM Dharam Singh. Kumaraswamy’s actions didn’t stop with the first defection, after he held the CM’s post for nearly 20 months he was to transfer power to the BJP based on a power sharing agreement that they had while engineering the defections of 2006. But Kumarswamy didn’t come through, he refused to transfer power and hence the state was put under president’s rule. After 2 months, in the November of 2017, Kumaraswamy again extended support to the BJP and BS Yeddyurappa was sworn in as the CM of the state; but when it came to proving majority, Kumaraswamy again backed away due to disagreements in sharing ministerial positions.

The assembly was hence dissolved after 191 days of president’s rule and the fresh elections where announced. By now the people of the state had lost respect for the JDS and the BJP had gained public sympathy. The BJP came to power on its own by way of a historic victory for the BJP in the south of India. But does that mean this story has a happy ending? No.

The BJP was mired in corruption charges and Yeddyurappa was named in a mining scam chargesheet. The opposition and BJP central leadership demanded Yeddyurappa to step down from the CM’s post, but he wouldn’t. Amids massive public outrage doctored by the opposition, Yeddyurappa remained adamant and maintained that he was innocent and his conscious was clear. Eventually his prosecution in the mining scam reached a fever pitch and he was even pronounced to be held in police custody. BSY was now out of options and had to quit the CM’s post in the July for 2011, about 3 years after he had assumed office. He was so disappointed and disgusted by the lack of support from the central leadership that he even quit and party and joined a regional party called Karnataka Janata Party – he came in at the top as the party president. After this bitter turn of events, the BJP appointed 2 other CMs for the remaining 2 years of the assembly.

In the assembly elections of 2013, though the country was reeling under policy paralysis and sever corruption charges on the central government, the state voted in favour of the congress giving it a clear majority to form the government on its own. The main reasons for this being the split in the BJP and the general sentiment to stay away from corrupt politicians.

This government remained in power for the entire term of 5 years without many hiccups. Although not much was achieved in the term, there was nothing visibly wrong and the opposition just didn’t have enough opportunities to usurp. Point to note – Siddaramaiah, the CM who held the post for the full term is also a defector – in fact he has been in 5 different parties. The biggest episode being his exit from the JDS in 2005.

Then came the assembly elections of 2018. An eventless term of the congress was about to end. There was not much to show and tell for the congress. The BJP stuck to its idea of being one with the nation and trying to breathe a breath of fresh air in the politics of the state. All indications depicted that it was going to be a hung assembly and a story of 2004 to repeat all over again. That’s what we saw in the drama that unfolded in 2018-19.

Now that we know all the facts, the question to be asked is, why? why are these men after power and why do they openly and easily defect? and why is defection so acceptable? is there no place for loyalty and integrity? Most importantly, can we as public do nothing about it? because no matter whom we vote for, they all have their own agenda to push for and they wouldn’t mind switching sides without a second thought about their voters.

I guess this is a riddle for students of political theory?

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