Why Karnataka is crucial for Congress

Why Karnataka is crucial for Congress

Why Karnataka is crucial for Congress

Bengaluru: No one can say they didn’t see it coming. Since the fractured mandate last year and rushed stitch-up of a shaky coalition between JD(S) and Congress, there has always been an undercurrent of unease, mistrust and a sense that the government may implode any moment; only held together, apparently, by the sheer will power (and money power) of a select few in the Congress and JD(S) camps. Slighted by their near-miss majority, BJP was always waiting in the wings, looking for every opportunity to avenge their leader BS Yeddyurappa’s two-day reign as the CM. While the status-quo has been maintained, for now, a fresh opportunity is just around the corner with the assembly starting its Budget Session today.

The coalition’s ignominious defeat in the Lok Sabha polls only brought to the fore the anger and resentment among the leaders and cadre of both the parties, rich with personal rivalries and bruised egos over cabinet positions denied. Amidst a leadership crisis at the Centre, the prestige and credibility of the Congress party has taken a huge hit with scenes of rebel MLAs being holed up in hotels, asking for police protection from their leaders to senior state leaders mobbing MLAs in the Vidhana Soudha and dragging them off into closed-door meetings. While everyone awaits a resolution from the Supreme Court to see if the rebel MLAs will be allowed to resign or be disqualified instead, it’s clear that two of the resignations are a particularly hard pill to swallow for the coalition – that of former JD(S) president A H Vishwanath and seven-time MLA and four-time minister Ramalinga Reddy of the Congress.

One of them will be accommodated and the other will be sidelined, according to Muzaffar Azadi, Professor at the Political Science department at Mysore University. And who is going to emerge on top of this “artificial crisis” is obvious from the nuances of this week’s dirty political dance. AH Vishwanath, a former Congress leader who joined the JD(S) in 2017, had recently resigned from his party post, taking responsibility for the Lok Sabha debacle. Calling him the “mastermind” behind the unfolding events, Azadi says Vishwanath will find himself being isolated for his role in it. “It’s clear from the rebel MLAs openly accepting that they resigned in the absence of the Speaker, that they know their resignations will be invalid. Now that a whip has been issued, they have to show up in the assembly early next week when the budget is introduced.” His role in the crisis may have been greater in the beginning than it is now as he finds himself no longer the key figure in the future days of this government. Managing Editor of Pickle Jar and political commentator, Vasanthi Hariprakash says of him, "Despite being the JD(S) state president he didn't enough muscle to get a Zila Panchayat member elected and was consistently given the short-shift by his own party supremo."

A similar and more crucial case is that of Reddy. He has made it clear he is not associated with the other Congress rebel MLAs, who still haven’t come up with the reasons behind their sudden resignations (except for vaguely stating they have been troubled by the rampant corruption or brashtachara). Reddy’s reasons have always been clear; a veteran Congressman who has never really shifted sides, he didn't quite make any noise when the coalition government was formed last year but has started feeling the resentment now, according to Hariprakash. Having held portfolios like Home and Transport, he was shockingly left out of the conflict-ridden cabinet creation last year and also its expansion recently. Two independent MLAs were inducted into the Cabinet instead (both of them have since resigned and pledged support to the BJP) and Reddy, already hurting over the increasing prominence of younger leaders like Dinesh Gundu Rao, Priyank Kharge and Krishna Byregowda in the party, was bound to publicly take up his displeasure with the party. The party will be compelled to give him his due, according to Azadi says. But why did it take so long? "Anyone who knows Mr Reddy will tell you that it's hard to know what is on his mind. HD Kumaraswamy may have underestimated his anger and growing resentment and didn't expect him to strike out to the extent of resigning."

"Here is a man who has won so many terms as an MLA and has an unofficial hold on the BBMP, which you may say is a parallel government of the capital of Karnataka," according to Hariprakash. "For someone like him to be left out of decision making and not be consulted in matters concerning even Bangalore has been too much to take. So this is him coming out to say - This far and no further." And his gamble is the most likely to pay off. “He is a senior member of the party and a seasoned politician. He will be accommodated,” Azadi says. Not only because he is very important for the Congress’ hold over the city, but his daughter Sowmya Reddy, Jayanagar's MLA, has also been indicating she might follow her father. “They both will be given positions in the new Cabinet,” said Azadi; the Cabinet is after all wide open after the mass resignations of all its members last week, a clear signal to dissatisfied MLAs that they will be entertained. 


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