During a trip to Bengaluru two months ago, I heard a close relative, who is a diehard Congress supporter, saying he would not mind voting for the BJP in the next assembly elections, though for the Parliament his choice would be the Congress led by Rahul Gandhi. He said that despite all the bad things associated with a “communal BJP”, over the last two years, the Yeddyurappa government has undertaken some good developmental projects. “Yeddyurappa has changed the face of Bengaluru, which suffered immensely in the hands of the Deve Gowda family”, he argued. The journalistic instincts in me wanted a slightly bigger picture. What I did then was to ask two drivers of taxi I had hired about their impressions on the state government. One was a proper Karnataki and the other hailed from neighbouring Tamil Nadu. Both of them had nice words to say about the BJP government.
However, interacting with some academicians and journalists working in the English press and national television channels, I got a totally different perception that the Yeddyurappa government was highly corrupt, though it was agreed that the previous Kumaraswamy government (in which BJP was a partner) and the Congress government (in which Kumaraswamy’s Janata Dal-S was a partner) were more corrupt. I was told that those governments were competent enough to hide the corrupt practices from public perceptions. In other words, the Yeddyurappa government, unlike his predecessors, had not mastered “the art of corruption”, an art by which one makes money but in a manner that does not raise public umbrage. Another major “drawback” that the Yeddyurappa government has had with these academicians and journalists is its “communal” image. They were not convinced that the Karnataka government, like Narendra Modi’s government in Gujarat, has been credited with good work for the minorities by official statistical organisations of the central government led by the Congress functionaries. Perceptions, rather than facts, mattered more to them, something that is typical of India’s intelligentsia on matters pertaining to the BJP.
In short, here is a government, which, despite all the odds against it, is delivering at the ground levels but has been unable to find acceptance among the upper-strata of the society that, in turn, magnifies its problems. In fact, the so-called civil society in Karnataka is yet to reconcile with the fact that a BJP government could be formed in South India. It is against this background that one may try to derive some lessons from the ongoing political mess in the state.
The first lesson is that in a customary political environment that is hostile to it, the BJP, or for that matter Chief Minister Yeddyurappa, has not risen to the occasion. Just imagine, who the leader was in the latest round of the coup! It all started with the Excise Minister Renukacharya. What is his background? As an MLA, he was linked with a notorious sex scandal. There have been criminal cases against him. He has been close to the powerful Reddy brothers, who had led a rebellion only last year against the leadership of Yeddyurappa. And yet, Yeddyurappa succumbed to the pressure of making him a minister, that too in the highly lucrative excise department. The point is that when someone succeeds in becoming a minister by bulldozing the leadership, he or she can never be loyal to the leader and the party. If he or she thinks of managing something better somewhere else, he will jump the boat. And that is precisely what has happened. And as long as Yeddyurappa has ministers like him, his government will continue to remain in the woods, even if it survives the judicial test in coming days.
And that prospect will remain all the more so when the BJP is a terribly factionalised party in Karnataka. Despite Yeddyurappa being the biggest vote-catcher of the party in the state, his leadership is not acceptable to party mandarins, who have little base but massive clouts at the central level of the party. No wonder, why some national leaders of the party support their respective factions and they leave no stone unturned to keep Yeddyurappa weak and under control. In fact, one particular leader wants Yeddyurappa out so that he could become the chief minister. Viewed thus, the latest turmoil has helped them in realising their objectives. Even if he survives, Yeddyurappa is not going to be the same during the rest of his tenure. He is now crucially dependent on the support of his known detractors within the party; he needs them desperately to keep his number in the Assembly intact. And this number can be kept only with muscle and money power, something his party rivals richly possess. In a sense, more than the constant fear of horse-trading, the present spectacle of Karnataka underscores the unfettered role big money has played in state politics, given the fact that a sum varying from Rs 15 to 30 crore is easily managed by the parties concerned to change one MLA’s loyalty.
The second lesson is that in order to survive a crisis due to the game of defections, a Chief Minister needs a friendly Speaker. Of course, even under non-turbulent days of Indian politics, the Speaker was not exactly a free man. As long as the Speaker needs a party ticket to get re-elected—in sharp contrast to the British parliamentary practice under which a Speaker does not face rivals to contest next elections—he or she will never be neutral. In any case, by disqualifying the dissident MLAs in the Assembly, the Karnataka Speaker has not done anything new. Whatever the Congressmen and their myriad sympathisers on the television channels may say, the fact remains that it is the Congress which has misused the post of Speaker the most in recent times. We just have to remember the role of the Congress in Goa and Jharkhand.
In Goa, the Congress has a Chief Minister, Digambar Kamat, who, incidentally is a defector form the BJP, and whose government did everything possible last week to help the BJP-rebels in a Goa hotel. And how has he survived? His worst hour came in July 2007, less than two months after he assumed power. Confronted with an open rebellion, the Congress-NCP government had been whittled down to 18. The BJP had the same number. But Speaker, Pratapsingh Rane, a former Congress Chief Minister, had a plan. On the day of the confidence vote, he passed an interim ex parte order restraining two MGP MLAs and a Congress rebel who wanted to resign from attending the proceedings in the House for voting. Tied at 18-18, Speaker Rane then put in his casting vote and Kamat is still in power. In fact, Rane is also famous (or notorious?) for adjourning twice the House hurriedly to pre-empt a crisis at the time of voting on crucial financial bills. In fact, the Goa example, certified by the Supreme Court, is the best precedent for Yeddyurappa government to impress on the Karnataka High Court that his Speaker has not done anything wrong.
Lastly, there is the important lesson that it is dangerous for democracy when an active politician of one particular party is appointed the Governor of a state, which is ruled by another political party. As Governor, HR Bhardwaj, who is yet to reconcile with the fact that under UPA- II, he was not allowed to continue as the Union Law Minister despite his undoubted loyalty to the Gandhi family, has done everything possible to dislodge the Yeddyurappa government by hook or crook. He has acted beyond his mandate. He has been so biased that he has entertained complaints from motivated elements in the opposition Congress and Janata Dal-S against the individual ministers and demanded their explanations directly without referring them to the Chief Minister as is the standard practice. He has interfered with the Speaker’s exclusive prerogative to conduct business inside the Assembly by directing him what to do and what not to do. . Worse, he has directed the Chief Minister, who was declared enjoying the confidence of the House, to seek it, inexplicably, again!
By Prakash Nanda