The Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) government in Karnataka is teetering on the edge — it may lose its majority in the assembly. Sixteen Congress legislators claim to have resigned as MLAs though Speaker KR Ramesh Kumar found procedural infirmities in their resignations. The Supreme Court, on a plea from 10 rebel MLAs, directed the Speaker on Thursday to meet them. His ruling will have a bearing on the House strength, of course. But it is unlikely to restore the credibility of the government, or for that matter, of the main political players in the state.
The 2018 mandate was a fractured one, it favoured neither the Congress nor the JD(S). The incumbent Congress won just 80 seats — 42 less than its 2013 tally — and the JD(S) got 37, three less than its previous number. The BJP was the single-largest party with 104 seats, nine seats short of a simple majority. Showing uncharacteristic agility, the Congress stitched a coalition with the JD(S), post election, to keep out the common foe, by offering JD(S) chief, HD Kumaraswamy, the chief minister’s office. But the Congress and JD(S) leaders have since refused to follow through on, and deepen, the unlikely partnership — by all accounts, they did not set aside their personal ambitions or throw their weight behind a shared governance agenda. Meanwhile, the BJP leadership, yet to reconcile with the fact that the party had been outsmarted in the southern state, was waiting to fish in troubled waters. Through it all, it would seem that big money, which played a major role in the campaign — the total Karnataka campaign spend was estimated at Rs 10,000 crore — continues to play a role in making and breaking loyalties in political camps. The herding of legislators into resorts in the run-up to the floor-test in 2018, the never-ending political bargains of the Deve Gowda clan, the drama in Mumbai where Mumbai Police refused to let Congress trouble-shooter DK Shivakumar visit the rebel MLAs, have only reconfirmed the suspicion that Karnataka politics is a murky affair, where money brazenly outstrips political principle.
This disgraceful act must not continue. A wobbly, inward-looking coalition with partners constantly at war with each other has stalled governance. Large parts of the state are reeling under a drought for the past three years. It is hard to believe that any of the legislators involved in the drama now playing out in Karnataka has a notion of public good in mind. Also, taken together with the events in Goa, where a sizeable section of Congress MLAs has crossed over to the ruling BJP, the crisis in Karnataka has a sobering message for the Opposition: Trounced by the BJP in the general elections, its inability now to hold on to its diminished bastions is further undermining its credibility and voice in the polity.