Karnataka Crisis: This sham must stop

Karnataka Political Drama

When the BJP first came to power in Karnataka back in November 2007, it was a landmark for the party. With B S Yeddyurappa taking oath as chief minister, the party celebrated its first government in South India. Yeddyurappa lasted exactly one week in the seat before President’s rule was imposed in the state for six months. The BJP returned to power in 2008, only to switch chief ministers thrice in its five years in government. Karnataka, in general, and the BJP, in particular, are no strangers to tumultuous politics. But what the state faces today is of a different order today: a mad rush to grab power at any cost with utter disregard to ethics, protocol and the people’s best interests.

One might argue that the BJP engineering resignations or defections to exploit legislators’ greed to ultimately help its own power lust is rank opportunism. But the Congress–JD(S) coalition ruling Karnataka is also the result of opportunism. The BJP seems motivated solely by a desire to steal power away from the Congress, much like the Congress did in allying with the JD(S), solely to keep the BJP out of power. These parties deserve each other; the people of Karnataka deserve none of them.

The BJP’s return to power at the Centre for a second term has triggered this state of affairs. The ruling coalition, even up to that point, was no doubt standing on shaky ground, but it was still capable of working in the interest of the people. But since late May, the coalition government has gone from shaky to complete disarray: 16 legislators resigned in close succession and most of them hid themselves in a luxury hotel in Mumbai.

Television news reports mentioned sighting BJP MLAs accompanying these so-called ‘rebels’ but nobody dwelt on the issue — after all it is an open secret that the BJP deserves credit for the situation in Karnataka today.

Never in history has Karnataka — once held in high regard for its values-based politics — been so humiliated, the office of the Speaker too not spared, and the people’s interests trivialised so blatantly. The people are happy with no party at the moment. As American journalist and historian Garry Wills said, ”It is not healthy for a society if the people hate their own government.” By that measure, the situation in Karnataka today is almost terminal.

Despite the chaos and the mess, there is still some hope for the state. For starters, the BJP, should it come to power, will do well to understand that the situation it will be in will be no different from that of the current coalition: with 105 seats (or 107, by some estimates), the party will have only a hairline majority.

This is all thanks to the Supreme Court which, in a rather shocking ruling, exempted ‘rebel’ MLAs from participating in a trust vote this week (the party ‘whip’ instantaneously lost its value as a convention). The strength of the Assembly, following the resignations, would drop to 209. Going forward, the BJP will have to be clever and anticipate that they will be as susceptible to failure every day they are in power as the current coalition has been in its one-year rule.

With this in mind, the BJP might even enjoy a borderline stable government. For the people of Karnataka — putting aside ideological discussions which have all but vanished from the face of politics in the country today — this may be a welcome change. And for this reason alone, if the BJP can remain in power stably, by all means every legislator from every party should help its government. That means not doing to the BJP what the BJP did to the current coalition: opposition for the sake of opposition and power.

Instead, the Congress and the JD(S) should focus on getting closer to the people, listen more attentively to voters, and do a splendid job of keeping the BJP government on track. They should give the BJP a fair crack of the whip, but always be ready to whip it into shape. Above all, they should do what the BJP could not, and resist the thirst for power. There was some semblance of this when several Congress and JD(S) ministers offered to give up their positions to accommodate the ‘rebels’ to save their government. This was a noble move that went almost unnoticed. Only steps such as these, exercised consistently and vigorously, will ensure that the people of Karnataka get the stable governance they deserve.

Lastly, the people themselves have to stop being spectators and take back control. People’s disconnect with democracy and their docility is partly to blame for the political shenanigans rampant today. Everyone, from the intellectual to the farmer, was silent while the media happily capitalised on the sorry state of our government.

People must speak out to bring about change. People have fought against injustices and pressed elected officials to work for society in the past. Political leaders have been swept into and out of power by mass movements. Think of the JP Movement, for example, or Occupy Wall Street, the Jasmine Movement, or even the recent movement in Hong Kong against extradition to mainland China. Discontent, incumbency fatigue, increasingly severe crises of water and drought, and the harsh realities of the economy continue to haunt people and we need to force our governments to listen to us. One should have already seen a people’s movement in the state by now.

It is important at this stage to measure the true value of people power and remind the government of it. It is important to measure the depth of public engagement with the day-to-day issues of governance. Eternal vigilance is the price of democracy and liberty.

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