The Congress-JD(S) government could not prove its majority on the floor of the House on 23 July and fell. HD Kumaraswamy could not handle the rebellion of Congress MLAs and his own. While the Congress had seized the opportunity after losing the election by promptly offering the chief minister’s chair to the JD(S) that had secured a pitiable third position in the Karnataka Assembly election of 2018, mere Assembly arithmetic did not prove glue enough for the government’s sustenance.
The BJP, which had emerged the single largest party, having won 104 seats, was always the strongest claimant to power against the Congress score of 80 and JD(S)’s 37. Interestingly, however, unlike in several other States where Amit Shah successfully led his party to government formation despite lower numbers, the BJP was not seen pro-active in seizing the opportunity in Karnataka, which finally led to BS Yeddyurappa being unable to establish his majority after defeating the two rival parties. The Lingayat leader staked claim to government formation on 17 May 2018 and had to resign two days later. Kumaraswamy was sworn in on 23 May last year.
Meanwhile, former chief minister Siddaramaiah was never comfortable with his diminished status under Kumaraswamy. His parleys with then Congress president Rahul Gandhi to end the coalition with the JD(S) but bore no fruit. This is a lesson for the Congress high command that must realise that the party is doing well only in States where the local leader’s will prevails. Since the decline of the Congress began in 2014, Punjab has been the only State where it has done well in maintaining the stability of the government after winning an election, thanks to the local organisation running according to the wishes of Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh rather than the whims of Gandhi. Madhya Pradesh sees tension under the surface between Chief Minister Kamal Nath and Jyotiraditya Scindia from an erstwhile princely state. Rajasthan witnesses rivalry between Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and a much younger Sachin Pilot. The chief minister is not all-powerful in either of the two Hindi-speaking States.
Anyway, beginning 15 January, trouble began brewing in Karnataka. Seven MLAs threatened to resign. Then began the ‘resort’ drama as these rebels were taken to a hotel in Pavai.
On 4 June, AH Viswanath resigned as the president of the JD(S). He heaped scorn on Chief Minister Kumaraswamy and the coalition government. The coalition neve really recovered from thereon.
On 6 July, 12 MLAs of the two parties in the coalition resigned, triggered by the resignation of Congress MLA Anand Singh who had resigned earlier. This was followed by the resignation of independent MLA Nagesh.
Nagesh left for Mumbai where the rebel MLAs were already lodged in a hotel. From the hotel, Nagesh shot off a letter to the governor saying he was withdrawing his support to the coalition government and if the BJP was willing, he was ready to support the saffron party.
In the meantime, Nagaraj swung between resignation and reconciliation, but DK Shivakumar couldn’t prove to be the infallible peacemaker this time. In yet another episode of drama, the Supreme Court tolerated Speaker KR Ramesh Kumar’s procrastination, who took his own sweet time to decide which side enjoyed the majority in the Assembly. But finally, none could save the day for the Congress-JD(S) government of Karnataka.
This 14-month long see-saw calls for a revision of the system of election and formation of a government. India has faced the difficult question of political stability in the scenario where no party gets the absolute majority since 1996 when the first Atal Bihari Vajpayee government fell in 13 days, followed by a failed trust vote in 1999 where another Vajpayee government fell by one vote. Either Indian elections must incorporate two rounds wherein the second round will have only the single largest party and the runner-up in the fray like how France chooses its President when the contest is close. Or Parliament and all Assemblies must acknowledge the right of the single largest party to rule. In any case, post-poll alliances are tantamount to cheating the voter who did not ask for a rag-tag coalition shorn of ideology and common objectives in governance.
Political instability is bad for the economy of the domain concerned (the whole country or a State), the nation’s morals as well as security. The minority government of PV Narasimha Rao had to take recourse to the JMM bribery scandal to stay in power. The fall of the Vajpayee government in 1996 brought in first HD Deve Gowda and then IK Gujral, with the second of the prime ministers dismantling India’s RAW network in Pakistan. Despite pro-market economics of the Vajpayee government in the period 1998-2004, the economy looked up only towards the latter years, as it had to recover from the slowdown brought in by the Deve Gowda-Gujral duo. Bengaluru being the hub of modern-age employment and Karnataka being among the better performing States nationally cannot be allowed to slump due to the vagaries of local politics.