Karnataka and its political roulette

Graphic illustration by Aishwariyaa R

Karnataka, as we speak, is simmering with high-intensity political tension. As a big question mark dangles over the Congress-JD(S) coalition's fate in the State, cries of horse-trading by the Saffron party being raised by the duo are echoing loud in the corridors of the Vidhana Soudha. 

 

 

But neither the collapse of a Congress-JD(S) government nor the practice of horse-trading is new to Karnataka and its tumultuous political history. 

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A sneak peek into the past

The year is 2004. The State Assembly election has resulted in a hung Assembly. The BJP has emerged as the single-largest party after winning 79 seats but has fallen short of a majority. The Congress -- 65 seats -- and the JD(S) -- 58 seats -- decide to join forces and form a coalition government. Sounds oddly familiar, doesn't it? 

This government, with Congress' N. Dharam Singh as its Chief Minister and Siddaramaiah, then with the JD(S), as its Deputy Chief Minister, pushed on before crumbling a little less than two years later, in early 2006. 

The JD(S) had pulled out of the coalition and joined hands with the BJP, with HD Kumaraswamy being appointed the Chief Minister. The catch? The JD(S)' Kumaraswamy would be Chief Minister for the first 20 months and the BJP's BS Yeddyurappa for the next 20. Yeddyurappa was the Deputy Chief Minister under the Kumaraswamy government.

The government collapsed after Kumaraswamy refused to hand over power at the end of his designated 20 months in 2007. This is the political drama that ensued -- the BJP withdrew its support, President's Rule was imposed, the JD(S) and the BJP came together again, briefly, BSY was appointed Chief Minister, the JD(S) pulled out of the alliance owing to fresh disagreements related to ministry sharing, the BJP lost majority, BSY refused to face the floor test and resigned 7 days after swearing in and ultimately, a fresh round of President's Rule was imposed. 

The undercurrent of the more than a-decade-old strife can be felt in the way the two have been sparring over the past 13 months of Kumaraswamy's Chief Ministership.

Apart from these big-ticket coalitions, there is just one other coalition government that can be found in the history books of Karnataka politics - the coalition government of 1983.

At the end of the 1983 State Assembly election, Ramakrishna Hegde, the leader of the Janata Party, became the first non-Congress Chief Minister of Karnataka. The Janata Dal had emerged as the single-largest party with 95 seats. 

To reach the majority mark, the party was backed by the BJP (18 seats), the CPI, the CPI (M) (3 seats each) and other independent candidates. The government, however, was considered to be more of a minority government than a coalition. 

Could it sustain? No. A year later, in 1984, the Janata Party was sorely defeated in the 1984 Lok Sabha elections. Claiming moral responsibility for the defeat, Hegde resigned and dissolved the government, thus putting an end to the coalition a little less than two years after it came into being. 

The horseplay of horse-trading 

Now, the year is 2008. The BJP, once again, emerges as the single-largest party with 110 seats under its belt - three short of the majority mark of  113 - in the State Assembly election. 

This was when the echoes of the term 'Operation Kamala' or ' Operation Lotus' were heard. Though the party, backed by independent candidates, formed the government, there was more to achieve.

The BJP's Yeddyurappa, under the said operation, is said to have spearheaded a move wherein the party allegedly indulged in the poaching or horse-trading of seven Opposition MLAs - four from the JD(S) and three from the Congress, in a bid to consolidate the government.

The result of these defections? Bye-polls in December 2008. The defected ministers, to skirt the anti-defection law, were inducted into the BJP after they quit their posts and fought the bye-elections on the BJP's tickets. The BJP won five seats while the JD(S) won the rest of them. 

Back to the present, the next few days will reveal if the Congress-JD(S) coalition will enter the list of fallen coalitions, in the already brief list of coalition governments in the State's history, or if it manages to scramble and reach the finish line.

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