The political drama in Karnataka that began after the assembly election failed to deliver a decisive majority to any party has, hopefully, ended with the Janata Dal (Secular)-Congress government winning the trust vote. Compulsions of office and the prospect of a resurgent BJP ahead of the general election next year may persuade the two parties to bury their differences and focus on governance. They must do so, irrespective of the political gains or losses in running a coalition government of parties that compete for a common social base.
The polarising election campaign has divided the state and the first step of the government must be to allow space for the bruises in the social fabric to heal. A stable government is necessary to ensure that these faultlines are not stoked further. The JD(S) and the Congress fought the election as bitter rivals and their rivalry, which runs deep at the grassroots, has a clear caste dimension. Under Siddaramaiah, the Congress government had built a social coalition that excluded two of the dominant castes, the Lingayats and the Vokkaligas, and nurtured it with a welfarist programme. To Siddaramaiah’s credit, he found the resources to fund the programmes without upsetting the state’s finances. Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy has promised a Rs 53,000-crore loan waiver for farmers, while the state Congress, recognising its fiscal implications, has been circumspect in backing any blanket waiver. The new government will have to expand its resource base if it wants to expand, or even maintain, the welfare net. The state has been following a skewed development path with excessive emphasis on the services sector situated around the Bengaluru region. The dry regions of northern Karnataka continue to lag behind in industry and infrastructure, forcing the youth to migrate south for education and employment. The government must focus on building the economic base of this region — cities like Bidar, Bijapur and Gulbarga with a rich heritage of forts, architecture and crafts traditions are potential tourist hotspots. Strangely, tourism in Karnataka remains an underdeveloped sector with the focus centred on southern Karnataka.
An immediate task of the Congress-JD(S) government will be to implement the Cauvery management scheme that the Supreme Court has approved of despite the state’s opposition. Cauvery is a fraught issue and the government will need to summon all its negotiating skills to make the court directive palatable for its distressed farmers.