Strong Opposition Awaits New K’taka CM
Karnataka Assembly poses a unique picture. Fundamentally strong, no nonsense chief minister gets an equally powerful Opposition, both in terms of number and quality
Never before was in the history of Karnataka Legislature there were four former chief ministers occupying the Opposition benches, as it is going to be witnessed in the next coming days. While three former chief ministers would be in the Assembly—B S Yeddyurappa (KJP), H D Kumaraswamy (JDS) and Jagadish Shettar (BJP), another former chief minister D V Sadananda Gowda (BJP) will occupy the Opposition benches in the Legislative Council (Upper House).
Chief Minister Siddaramaiah will have to face a strong Opposition not only in terms of number (90 in a house of 224) but also in terms of quality, as apart from four former chief ministers, there will be as many as 41 former ministers from three parties –BJP, JD (S) and BSR Congress (Sriramulu). “I like to face a strong Opposition,” Siddaramaiah had said, immediately after his name was declared as the leader of the Congress Legislature Party, thus paving the way for this Kuruba strongman to take over as the state’s 28th chief minister. And it looks like that he would get what he had asked for—strong Opposition which would be vocal also.
This Assembly would be unique in more than one sense. Perhaps, for the first time in 19 years, there is a near-balance in the proportion between the Opposition parties and the treasury benches. While the Opposition’s number will be 90, excluding the independents, the ruling party’s number is 121. Election to one seat (Periyapatna) will be held on May 28, the result either way will not make any major change in the composition of the Assembly. Such a situation existed in 1994 when the Undivided Janata Dal had won 120 seats with the combined Opposition’s number including the independents were 100 and odd. H D Deve Gowda was the chief minister from 1994 to 1996 after which he went on to become the Prime Minister in April 1996. The state was steered by J H Patel till 1999.
In the present Karnataka Assembly, it is going to be “Houseful of Experience”, with former chief ministers and ministers in good number. While the debate could be expected to be of high quality—given the knowledge and experience in administration of both the sides, it would, however, not be a surprise if the “senior” members (some of them former ministers) using their vocal chords to high pitch. One would hope that the Opposition would throw more “light” instead of generate “heat.”
Siddaramaiah is no novice in politics as well as to the administration. Before becoming the leader of the Opposition in the Assembly, he had the unique distinction of presenting seven budgets. His knowledge of the fundamentals so far as economy and social situation of the nation-state is concerned is strong.
Having known the administrative machinery from inside, Siddaramaiah brooks no nonsense from bureaucrats, no matter what his or her seniority is. Known to be a little brash if not brazen, this former socialist-turned-Congressman is conscious of his priority and tasks ahead of him. He has to consolidate the three crucial vote-banks—OBCs, SCs/STs and minorities—as Lok Sabha elections are just a year away. “I need to race against time from today,” he told his close confidants, immediately after taking oath as chief minister at the sprawling Kanteerava Stadium, amidst “sea of humanity” which had converged from various parts of state in the heart of city.
True to his commitment and passion to deliver goods and keep up his promise, his first order as chief minister during his maiden visit to Vidhana Soudha is to provide rice at Rs 1 a kg starting from Monday (13th May) and waiving off loans of SCs/STs and minority development corporations, and increasing the subsidy for one litre of milk from Rs 2 to Rs 4. “Siddaramaiah has hit a six in the first ball itself,” one of his close confidents, Dr H C Mahadevappa told this correspondent.
These moves are sure to hit both the BJP as well as the KJP as they used to boast of giving Rs 2 subsidy for a litre of milk, which has now been increased to Rs 4 by Siddaramaiah. Surely, the BJP and the KJP must think of boasting something else while they get ready for the Lok Sabha elections.
Given his firm belief and conviction that it is the writ of the political leadership that should run “throughout, always and everywhere,” one can expect a “political rule”—guidance and decisions by political leadership and implementation by bureaucracy in Karnataka under Siddaramaiah’s stewardship. This is something unlike what it used to in the BJP establishment—bureaucracy ruling the roost due to the BJP ministers’ ignorance as well as inability and disinterest to learn the intricacies and nuances of day-to-day governance.
It is not that the Siddaramaiah would be having a free run, throughout. His election as CLP leader has caused heartburn among the dalits as one of their leaders Mallikarjuna Kharge has been denied of the opportunity. He has to please all sections and regions of the state in providing representation in the Cabinet. While the claim of the seniors cannot be ignored, he also has to keep in mind Rahul Gandhi’s principle of “infusing young blood” in administration, meaning a good number of youngsters will have to be accommodated in the ministry. A daunting and challenging task indeed!
Moreover, Siddaramaiah has been selected as chief minister, ignoring the claims of seniors in the party who consider themselves as “aboriginals” and regard Siddaramaiah as a “migrant” who joined Congress as latest as 2007 after deserting H D Deve Gowda’s JD(S). This Kuruba strongman has the task of placating the seniors also, besides keeping the juniors in good humour apart from being “obedient” to the high command, which always keeps an eye on its regional satraps. Given his temperament of being brash, it looks like that Siddaramaiah needs to take a lesson or two in toning and polishing his behaviour as he sets before him the task of toning the bureaucracy. What Siddaramaiah needs to be careful is the machinations of the JD (S) leaders, especially Deve Gowda and his sons, given their clout in the administrative machinery and their possible inclination to make his life miserable.
It is an open secret that Gowda scuttled Siddaramaiah’s chances of becoming chief minister twice in the past, once in 1996 and later in 2004. While in 1996, Gowda (who became Prime Minister) proposed J H Patel’s name thus making Siddaramaiah deputy chief minister, in 2004 Gowda agreed for the candidature of Dharam Singh for CM’s post in the Congress-JD(S) coalition government. Siddaramaiah had to be contended to be deputy for the second time. Gowda is not a man to take anybody cocking a snook at him lightly. In this background, Siddaramaiah needs to constantly look at the backyard of his bureaucracy.
Yeddyurappa has said more than a dozen times that he too has suffered no less at the machinations of Gowda and his sons, who constantly conspired to overthrow the BJP government or at least unseat the Lingayat strongman by hook or by crook. There is a lesson or two for Siddaramaiah from what Yeddyurappa underwent.
For the first time in nine years, Karnataka electorate has given full majority to Congress, which too claims of having the ability to provide a stable government. But Karnataka has seen political instability during Congress rule also with three chief ministers occupying the hot seat between 1989 and 1994 (Veerendra Patil, S Bangarappa and M Veerappa Moily). The state could see political stability only when S M Krishna was the chief minister between 1999 and 2004.
But more often, the Congress-type of stability has led to stagnation. In that sense, Karnataka politics has been oscillating like a pendulum from single party stagnation to multi-party instability. People hope that the present Congress government headed by Siddaramaiah would provide a stable government which would not lead to stagnation but trigger growth and development.
By S A Hemantha Kumar from Bemgaluru