BJP’s pyrrhic victory in Karnataka (Comment)

By Amulya Ganguli, IANS
Friday, October 15, 2010

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) may have won the trust vote in the Karnataka assembly but at the cost of straining the confidence of the people. Besides, the narrow margin of its victory is only a thin buffer against the possible loss of power because the party will continue to be on tenterhooks till the high court delivers its judgment on the petition from the 16 legislators on their disqualification by the assembly speaker.

However, the BJP’s hope is that its opponents - the Congress and the Janata Dal-Secular (JD-S) - do not evoke much confidence about their ability to provide good governance. In fact, Karnataka’s tragedy is that all the three parties are virtually mirror images of one another where the absence of trustworthy leaders and allegations of sleaze are concerned.

In addition, all of them have exposed themselves to the taint of opportunism by their convenient switching of partners. The JD-S, for instance, has been allies of both the Congress and the BJP while the latter succeeded in forming a government in 2008 by winning the allegiance of several legislators seemingly by foul means rather than fair.

The role of the business tycoons from Bellary, Janardhana and Karunakara Reddy, who became ministers, has been under scrutiny in this regard. They have also been accused of illegal mining. It is this atmosphere of venality, mainly related to the Bellary brothers, which has harmed the BJP’s reputation more than anything else. The apparent failure of Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa to exercise adequate authority - he has been mocked for being afraid of the Reddys - has further damaged the party’s standing.

Not surprisingly, therefore, when a section of party members as well as the Independents raised a banner of revolt following a cabinet reshuffle, the familiar allegations of horse-trading were made. Only this time it was not so much the BJP which was at the receiving end of the charges of money changing hands as the JD-S, which was suspected of housing the rebels in Goa in order to keep them out of the BJP’s reach.

For the moment, the Yeddyurappa government has been saved by the Speaker’s controversial decision to disqualify the rebels in order to prevent them from voting during the trust motion. To what extent his interpretation of the anti-defection law in this respect is right is open to question. However, it is almost certain that the government would have fallen if the dissidents had been allowed to vote.

The BJP’s desire to save the government is all the greater because Karnataka is the first south Indian state where it has been able to come to power. Given its weakness in the three other states in the region - Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala - Karnataka is likely to remain the only southern state in the foreseeable future where it will have some presence.

But the damage it has inflicted on itself by its eagerness to hold on to power can prove to be a debilitating one in a state which is a frontrunner where information technology is concerned and whose capital, Bengaluru (formerly Bangalore), has earned a name for itself for its cosmopolitanism.

To many in Karnataka as well as outside, it can seem strange that such a state, which is known for its modern and sophisticated IT sector should have had such unprepossessing personalities as the Congress’s Dharam Singh, the JD-S’ H.D. Kumaraswamy and the BJP’s Yeddyurappa as chief ministers in the last few years.

Perhaps a realization of this popular perception has made the Congress maintain some distance from Kumaraswamy’s proactive role in trying to bring down the government. It has been hinting at its preference for an election in case Yeddyurappa is defeated on the floor of the house. In that event, it is not impossible that the Congress will project the tennis-playing Fulbright scholar S.M. Krishna, who is now the external affairs minister, as its chief ministerial candidate if the party’s inner factionalism allows such a move. Krishna, it may be recalled, was chief minister from 1999 to 2004.

For the present, however, Kumaraswamy’s energetic involvement in the toppling game has been matched by Govenor H.R. Bhardwaj’s equally enthusiastic efforts to trip up the government. Bhardwaj not only exceeded his brief by calling upon the speaker not to disqualify anyone, but even favoured the imposition of President’s rule during the crisis.

He has also been engaged right from the start of his tenure in criticising the government for its alleged corruption. This unwarranted activism has enabled the BJP to divert attention from its own problems by accusing the governor of partiality and calling for his recall. Even the Congress has distanced itself from its own former law minister at the centre.

The Yeddyurappa government’s efforts to remain in office will be resumed next week when the high court delivers its verdict. But even if the 16 defectors lose their case, it is unlikely that the chief minister will be able to focus on the task of governance.

(16.10.2010-Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. He can be reached at

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