Explained: Congress-JD(S) rift assumes form as Karnataka CM threatens to quit

Karnataka Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy expressed his willingness to step down from his post on if Congress did not control its legislators from his work. The post-poll alliance that delivered Karnataka to Congress and JD(S) in the dramatic Assembly elections last year, is crumbling under the pressure of shared portfolios and internal criticism, in a development that began last month.

The stability of the hurriedly-stitched coalition has always been questionable from the start, but discontent reared its inevitable ugly head in December when several big names were left out of the expanded cabinet. JD(S) leaders have since claimed they had not been consulted before the appointments, further undermining the regional party’s role in governance, especially considering its seats were crucial in forming the ruling coalition.

The alliance is believed to have barely survived another crisis recently, involving alleged attempts by the BJP to poach Congress MLAs that would have dismantled the paper-thin margin which gives Congress-JD(S) the numbers to maintain a majority in the House.

Cracks assume form

On Monday, Kumaraswamy made a very public proclamation of his readiness to step down, in response to hurtful comments and repeated attempts to overrule his leadership. He accused a few Congress lawmakers of acting as loyalists to former CM Siddaramaiah after they declared that for them, the Congress bastion was still the head of the state.

It must be remembered that Siddaramaiah had begrudgingly vacated his CM seat after the BJP swept most of Congress’ seats in the election, allowing the party to hold on to Karnataka only after relinquishing key cabinet roles to the JD(S).

Kumaraswamy told reporters in Bengaluru on Monday, “If my style of functioning is not acceptable to anybody, I am ready to quit. I do not want to continue and stick on to the chair. Congress and JD(S) leaders have formed this government to give good governance,” he said, according to PTI.

Putting the onus on the Congress leadership to resolve these issues, he said, “It is left to them. I am not the person concerned. If they want to continue with the same things, I am ready to step down. ”

Response from Congress leadership

Kumaraswamy’s statement sent senior Congress leaders rushing to the southern state to defuse the situation and limit the damage, knowing fully well that the failure of this alliance could be a huge setback in the run-up to the Lok Sabha polls. Congress has managed to hold or win back several key states with a show of mature and diplomatic politics in the last year. Furthermore, this is the year of united fronts against one common enemy: the BJP.

Any act of indiscipline by way of comments or behaviour will not be tolerated and discipline action will be initiated.
Our coalition with the JDS is to take on the communal forces and unseat the anti democratic forces ruling this country, not to indulge in petty politicking.— Dinesh Gundu Rao (@dineshgrao) January 28, 2019

Siddaramaiah himself told the press there was no question of his return to the chief ministerial seat, and promised to have a word with Kumaraswamy. The top brass of the party has urged its legislators in the south not to cross the ‘lakshman rekha‘ of coalition politics and issued firm ultimatums for those who didn’t respect the rules of the combine.

Congress general secretary KC Venugopal, who is also in charge of AICC Karnataka, reaffirmed that the party has full faith in the Karnataka government and the Chief Minister, further instructing KPCC to issue a show-cause notice to Yeshwanthpur MLA ST Somashekar, one of the leaders who had humiliated Kumaraswamy and the coalition.

Instructed Karnataka PCC to send a show cause notice to Somashekhar MLA seeking clarification on his controversial remarks.If the explanation is not satisfactory, party will take strong disciplinary action.@INCIndia will not tolerate any such indiscipline statements and actions.— K C Venugopal (@kcvenugopalmp) January 28, 2019

Speaking at an event, the newly appointed Chairperson of the Bangalore Development Authority, Somashekar had not only demanded that Siddaramaiah reinstated as the CM, but had also claimed that there had been no major development in Bengaluru in the seven months since the coalition came into force.

Shortly after the AICC and KPCC sought an explanation for his controversial remarks, Somashekar tendered an unconditional apology on Monday afternoon, expressing regret for having caused anguish to the CM.

How the BJP responded

With this recent controversy, the opposition BJP too weighed in, denying allegations of trying to topple the government by poaching coalition MLAs.

“The Chief Minister’s statement exposes the internal bickering between coalition partners. It has also proved that allegation of Operation Lotus is a bogus claim by the Chief Minister and other Congress leaders to divert people’s attention from the government’s failures,” Leader of the Opposition and BJP State president BS Yeddyurappa was reported as saying.

What happened in December

Seven Congress MLAs and one MLC were sworn in as ministers in the Kumaraswamy-led government in December, as part of the agreed-upon cabinet expansion and reshuffle after six months. Out of 30 legislative board chairman posts, Congress is supposed to appoint their MLAs as chairmen in 20 boards while JDS MLAs share the remaining 10.

The Congress reportedly had to make difficult choices by dropping two older MLAs, considering it only had six seats to fill as per the post-poll understanding between the two parties. Amidst issues with at least two of the new names, sources in JD(S) told India Today on December 28, that Congress never consulted it on the selection process to elevate MLAs to chairpersons of various boards and corporations.

It is also worth noting at this point, that HD Kumaraswamy was perhaps the only attendee at the Mahagathbandhan rally in Kolkata this month, who endorsed West Bengal CM and TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee as one with “all capabilities” required to lead the nation.

Rahul Gandhi, whose party he shares a coalition with and who is ardently campaigning for his candidacy, was notably absent from the meeting at Brigade Ground, attended by over 20 regional parties whose only agenda is to oust BJP from the .

Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius