The southern state of Karnataka went to the polls on 12th May to elect a new Assembly. With elections to the Lok Sabha due in May next year, this election assumed strategic importance as the BJP, which is part of the NDA government at the centre was keen to prove that it still had its decisive footprint, at least in one state south of the Vindhyas.
The party which had been in power in the state from 2008-2013, blotted its copybook very badly with a series of scams surfacing, and the Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa having to resign from his post and cool his heels in jail for some time due to his alleged involvement in a de-notification scam. The Congress seized the opportunity and was voted to power with a decisive mandate winning 122 seats out of 224. The BJP unleashed a blitzkrieg this time around, and its campaign was led from the front by Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi himself. Modi the BJP’s ace campaigner addressed as many as 21 election rallies crisscrossing the length and breadth of the state. Modi never wasted any opportunity to launch a tirade against the opposition parties, the Congress and the JD (S), and even accused the Congress of running a 10 percent government with rampant corruption in every department.
The PM didn’t produce an iota of evidence to substantiate his charges, as the Congress government led by Siddaramaiah had not been enmeshed in any major scam during its five year tenure. Able support for Modi came from another fiery speaker, the BJP President, Amit Shah, who too struck a negative note right through his campaign. The Congress, not to be left behind, also had its President Rahul Gandhi campaign, who continued with his temple hopping, and also delivered hard hitting speeches highlighting the misrule of the BJP when it was in power in the state. The third party in the fray, the JD (S) led by its patriarch, former PM Deve Gowda and his sons H.D. Kumaraswamy and H.D. Revanna knew their strengths and weaknesses well, and though the leaders predicted that they would be voted to power, they were mentally prepared to settle for a distant third place.
Most pollsters had predicted that the polls would throw up a fractured verdict, but one or two had predicted that the BJP would get a majority on its own. Elections were countermanded in one constituency due to the death of the BJP candidate, and deferred in another after thousands of voter ID cards were found in a flat. The final tally was 104 for the BJP, 78 for the Congress and 38 for the JD (S) (actually 37 as H.D. Kumaraswamy won from both his constituencies). The Governor, Vajubhai Vala, an old RSS hand and former Gujarat minister, exercised his discretion and invited the single largest party, the BJP to form the government, though he was fully aware that the party was short of a majority by eight, and the only way it could get the numbers was through unethical means like horse trading. He also magnanimously allowed the BJP’s CM B.S. Yeddyurappa, whom he had sworn in by then, fifteen days to prove his majority on the floor of the house, though the CM had only requested for seven days. But the BJP was in for a rude shock as the Supreme Court, hearing a petition by the Congress, trimmed the period from 15 days to just 24 hours. Caught unawares and unable to launch its second version of Operation Lotus to wean away opposition MLAs, CM Yeddyurappa resigned before facing the poll test. In an unprecedented development, the Congress and the JD (S) which had no pre-poll alliance and were pitted against each other in the elections, came together and were invited by the Governor to form the government.
In yet another strange turn of events, the Congress which had won double the seats as compared to the JD (S), offered the CM’s post to the latter, and H.D. Kumaraswamy took oath as the CM with Dr. G. Parameshwar of the Congress taking over as the Deputy CM. The cabinet has since been expanded,, and 25 more ministers from both the parties have taken office, and the portfolios too have been announced. Dissent has surfaced in a big way in the Congress camp as a number of seniors who had been ministers in earlier governments have been overlooked and there have been a series of agitations by their followers. While the new government has won a vote of confidence it now has a wafer thin majority in the house as the combined strength is only 115 as against a requirement of 112. So it is imperative that the rebel MLAs are pacified and the dissent is nipped in the bud.
Impact on the BJP
Karnataka is the only state in the South where the BJP has a footprint, and has even been voted to power, albeit only once. With the BJP’s losing streak in bypolls to the Lok Sabha and state assemblies continuing, and with the opposition parties gearing up to present a united front in the 2019 elections, Karnataka which sends 28 members to the Lower House would be a vital state for the BJP as far as the South is concerned. While announcing his resignation from the CM’s post, the BJP state President B.S. Yeddyurappa vowed that he would ensure that the party wins all the 28 seats in next year’s general elections. This seems to be a case of wishful thinking as the new alliance partners, the Congress and the JD (S) have already firmed up plans to hold their alliance for the 2019 elections as well. As far as the state government is concerned, it has to be seen whether it will be able to weather all storms and provide a stable rule for a full five years.