Thirteen dissident lawmakers in Karnataka’s ruling Congress-JD(S) coalition resigned from their respective parties over the weekend, posing a major threat to the majority that the alliance holds in the legislative assembly.
They reportedly moved from a hotel in Mumbai to an unknown location on Monday, as their parties tried to desperately to get in touch with them. Promising the rebels a complete reshuffle, the old cabinet has also resigned to woo the defectors back into the fold.
Meanwhile, workers of both parties are protesting the politics of poaching that the BJP has allegedly executed to beleaguer the coalition. UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi on Monday directed senior Congress leaders and the state’s lawmakers to resolve the crisis in the earliest.
Here’s what happened
Congress and the regional JD(S) arrived at an understanding to share power after the Karnataka Assembly polls last year — in a bid to prevent the BJP, which fell short of the absolute majority but was still the single party with the most votes, from constituting the government.
Cracks in the hastily assembled post-poll partnership were showing even before the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, but chasms in the seat-share arrangement widened during the election campaigns, probably paving the way for a flip in the mandate in BJP’s favour on May 23.
But the ongoing spate of resignations began with the resignations of two independent lawmakers H Nagesh and R Shankar last week, who were recently appointed as ministers in an attempt to consolidate numbers. But the due reportedly pledged support to the BJP soon after, inspiring eleven others to quit the alliance with more to possibly follow.
If the resignations stand the Speaker’s scrutiny, the Congress-JDS coalition’s 118 members in the 224-seat state assembly will come down to 102 and the majority mark will drop from 113 to 105.
The BJP has 105 members and with the support of the two Independents, their tally now stands at 107.
How’s the govt handling the crisis?
All coalition ministers have since quit to make room for the dissident lawmakers as the Congress and JDS went out of their way to try and win them back.
21 lawmakers from Congress and 9 from JD(S) submitted their resignations to Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy on Tuesday, in an effort to save the coalition government.
But on Tuesday, a dozen more coalition leaders absented themselves from a meeting despite compulsory attendance, further exacerbating fears. Sowmya Reddy who attended the meeting told NDTV that more resignations cannot be ruled out as a possibility.
Speaking for her father Ramalinga Reddy who quit on Saturday, she said he “did this because he had been upset about double standards.”
Meanwhile, Congress leader DK Shivakumar accused the BJP and its Karnataka chief BS Yeddyurappa of engineering the resignations and then ferrying the lawmakers to Mumbai on special flights. He is reportedly meeting the rebel MLAs in Mumbai tomorrow, News18 reported late Tuesday.
To prevent more exits, the JDS has put up its remaining lawmakers to a resort on the outskirts of Bengaluru. Sources said the party has also booked 35 rooms in Paddington Resort in Kodagu.
Speaker gives coalition time to get rogue MLAs in order
The coalition received a breather on Tuesday after Vidhan Soudha Speaker KR Ramesh Kumar denied the first bunch of resignations, on grounds that due process had not been following in filing them. He asked the rebel MLAs to re-submit them again.
None of the lawmakers had met him, he wrote in a letter to the Governor.
The Speaker was not in office when they had submitted their resignations on Saturday, reported The Hindu. Kumar said he has to act according to the constitution, adding, “The MLAs have not given letters as per law, so they have to come again and give me. Out of 13 resignations, eight are not in order.”
Opposition leaders are now urging him to invoke the provisions of the anti-defection law under Section 164 and its sub-clauses, in order to save the government.
Could this be indicative of larger problems?
One of the rebels, Yashwanthpura’s Congress MLA ST Somashekar told reporters, “If Siddaramiah and DK Shivakumar threaten us with disqualification, we may have to resign from the party, right now we have only resigned as MLAs, if things do not augur well, we have told Shivakumar and Siddaramaiah that we may even have to resign from the Congress. We are not held by anybody at gunpoint.”
“All the MLAs of JD(S) and Congress who have been camping in Mumbai have revealed that many MLAs were made to stand with folded hands in front of those people in power, which is humiliating, our voters in our respective constituencies do ask us why not even one developmental work has happened. For example, in Haveri constituency not even one developmental work has been taken up,” Somashekar added.
In light of these grievances and the ongoing political crisis, Shivakumar, who is also the Water Resources Minister attended a meeting on Monday, chaired by Kumaraswamy along with the Board of Directors of Krishna Bhagya, Water Corporation, Kaveri Irrigation Corporation and Karnataka Irrigation Corporation at the chief minister home office.
Politics of poaching
Accusing the BJP of horsetrading and destabilising the coalition in the state, Congress workers staged protests across the capital; the party’s youth workers also gheraoed the Sofitel in Mumbai where the dissident coalition lawmakers were lodged at one point.
Meanwhile, the BJP’s Karnataka unit is also demonstrating in districts outside Bengaluru, claiming the Congress-JD(S) alliance has lost their moral authority to govern. “HD Kumaraswamy must resign as Karnataka Chief Minister. We are going to protest tomorrow at Gandhi Statue, Vidhana Soudha,” Karnataka BJP chief and Leader of Opposition in Karnataka Assembly BS Yeddyurappa told reporters on Tuesday.
CM Kumaraswamy, meanwhile, cut his US trip short to manage the fallout, announcing that all Congress and JDS ministers have resigned and a cabinet reshuffle would take place soon. “The government will survive,” he told NDTV.
News18 also quoted senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad as saying, “Our MLAs will come back.” Azad was the one who along with Ashok Gehlot stitched together the coalition government in Karnataka in 2018. Accompanied by another senior Congress leader BK Hariprasad, Azad has already positioned himself in Karnataka to manage the fallout.
Will Congress play the role of an effective opposition?
Former CM M Veerappa Moily warned that the political situation prevailing in Karnataka is highly volatile “whether or not the Assembly session will be able to be in order on 12 July is a matter of immense intrigue”.
“If the MLAs who have resigned did not show up on the opening day in the case of the opposition moving no confidence motion, serious problems will surface. The impasse will be deeper just like the case of Jayalalithaa in Tamil Nadu,” he said.
Congress MPs staged a walkout in parliament to protest against what they allege are the BJP’s machinations to seize power in Karnataka.
For the first time in the 17th Lok Sabha, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi raised slogans over the developments in Karnataka, adding to West Bengal’s sole Congress MP Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury’s argument alleging BJP Karnataka’s attempts to poach the coalition’s leaders.
Slogans like “Down with dictatorship” (Tanashahi Band Karo) and “Stop the politics of poaching” (Shikar ki rajneeti Band Karo Band Karo) were raised on the House floor Tuesday, to Speaker Om Birla’s dismay.
A similar scenario is unfolding in West Bengal where Trinamool MLAs and councillors are exiting the regional party in hordes to join the BJP, which outdid itself and garnered 19 of the 42 seats in the eastern state in the recent Lok Sabha elections.
Prarthana Mitra is a Staff Writer at Qrius.