The glue of power

The sum total is that the BJP has split, the ministers have divided loyalties, but the glue of power helps them to stay happily together!

Strange things happen in politics. But there is nothing more bizarre than what’s happening in Karnataka with the first Bharatiya Janata Party government down South taking the people of the state on a roller coaster ride.

As he had been threatening for a long time, former chief minister B S Yeddyurappa walked out of the BJP and launched his own party, Karnataka Janata Party (KJP) at Haveri last Sunday. With his departure, it should have been a goodbye to his old party and in the normal course, the severance of relations with it.

But, considering that Yeddyurappa had a major role in building the BJP in Karnataka and bringing it to power in 2008, he is out to demonstrate that he cannot be wished away that easily. Therefore, even after resigning from the party he still enjoys so much of clout in the state BJP  -- to the chagrin of the state and central leaders -- that the Jagadish Shettar government is very much at his mercy and he is in a position to decide when to cut off the oxygen supply to it.

It reminds one of a folklore tale of a magician who has ‘transported’ the life of a princess into the body of a parrot which is hidden beyond the seven seas, and the magician has the power to decide the timing of her death.

 Thus, even before the KJP was born, let alone contest an election, Yeddyurappa could boast that there was now a BJP-KJP ‘coalition’ government in Karnataka and nobody could contest such a claim. On the eve of Haveri convention, the BJP tried to assert its position by sacking one minister, who is an MLC, and suspending another MP loyal to Yeddyurappa, and threatening to take disciplinary action against those who associated themselves with the former chief minister.

But the bravado disappeared the moment Yeddyurappa paraded at least seven more ministers, four MPs, 14 MLAs and six MLCs at the Haveri rally and dared the Shettar government to dissolve the Assembly and go for fresh elections.

It is safe to presume that Yeddyurappa can genuinely claim the support of at least 30 MLAs, if not more, and the government’s longevity is in his hands. But even he suffers from a weakness in that he can’t persuade them to come out with him immediately. They would like to wait and watch till the elections are announced. Similarly, ministers Shobha Karandlaje, Murugesh Nirani, C M Udasi, Basavaraj Bommai are among his staunchest supporters, but they too won’t quit the ministry until an ‘appropriate’ time.

Serious doubts

It would be legitimate to raise serious doubts about their loyalty to Yeddyurappa, but it doesn’t seem to bother him. It is quite possible that at this point of time, it also suits Yeddyurappa to let his loyalists continue in government as, he has many criminal cases chasing him and his family members, and there is no harm in having friends in the cabinet. And in any case, the number game is so crucial for Jagadish Shettar, that he is in no position to get rid of them either.

The sum total is, the party has split, the ministers have divided loyalties, but the glue of power helps them to stay happily together!

So much so, the Yeddyurappa loyalists who attended the Haveri convention in the middle of the Assembly session at Belgaum, returned to work to support the government bills in the two Houses, including the Prevention of Cow Slaughter and Cattle Preservation (Amendment) Bill which contradicts their leader’s new secular mask displayed at the time of KJP’s launch. They also helped the government pass the controversial private universities’ bills even without discussion as everyone is happy ‘promoting’ education and the influential lobby behind it.

A dispassionate observer might say that after Yeddyurappa floated a new party and demonstrated his strength at Haveri, the Shettar government has forfeited its moral right to continue in office as it has been reduced to a minority. At the Belgaum session, the Opposition Congress and the JD(S) could have moved a no confidence motion against the Shettar government and tested the Yeddyurappa loyalists’ resolve. The Congress leaders, particularly, have been demanding for a long time that the ‘illegitimate’ BJP government should go, but when they had an opportunity to bring it down, they quietly backtracked.

The reasons are not far to seek. With the elections four to five months away, the legislators across parties are apprehensive about going to the electorate immediately and they want to enjoy power as long as they can. By February or so, the government is expected to present a ‘populist’ budget which means hundreds of crores of rupees will be available for ‘development works,’ in their constituencies, besides around Rs 150 crore which will be transferred to the legislators’ constituency funds which could be judiciously utilised for their re-election. Therefore, even if the leaders were ready to send the Shettar government go packing, the legislators simply were in no mood to do so.

But this ‘cosy arrangement’ could come crashing down if the Election Commission in its wisdom takes a view that the people of Karnataka deserve a new government at the earliest. The Commission is empowered under the Constitution to order elections suo motu when the Assembly has a life term of less than six months. Recently, they did it in Himachal Pradesh. Will they do so in Karnataka?

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