That the state government in Karnataka began to unravel within a few hours of chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy embarking on a foreign tour may or may not have been a coincidence. Either way, what looked at first like just two legislators, Gokak MLA Ramesh Jarkiholi and Vijaynagara MLA Anand Singh, both with an axe to grind, putting in their papers earlier in the week has ballooned into a full-blown crisis on Saturday when 11 members of the legislative Assembly, three from the Janata Dal (S) and nine from the Congress, alongside Mr Jarkiholi, formally resigned from the Assembly, bringing the JD(S)-Congress coalition government perilously close to collapse.
In the 224-member house, with the Opposition BJP holding fast to its 105 MLAs, the 13-month-old coalition government has been reduced to just 106 members, which includes the speaker. Any further resignations and the Congress Party’s deeply unpopular arrangement with the JD(S), conceived in Delhi and executed in Bengaluru, will rapidly come to an end. Two Independents support the BJP. The lone BSP member backs the Congress-JD(S).
With Mr Kumaraswamy expected to be back in the city by Sunday, and one section of the Congress that wants the coalition to survive already moving to placate four of the nine restive legislators with cabinet berths, the crisis could blow over.
But the trigger for the sudden resignations, the ill-advised cabinet expansion that saw the JD(S) reward two of their own while ignoring old Congressman Mr Ramalinga Reddy, has once again exposed the fault line within the Congress. Loyalists of former CM Siddaramaiah have been working at cross-purposes with Congress old-timers for some time now. Three of the Congress legislators who resigned may have done so at the behest of chief malcontent Mr Siddaramaiah, who has been chafing at losing control of the state machinery, even though the Congress won 79 seats under his charge. The Kuruba strongman would rather have no government at all than one where the JD(S), the junior partner, continues to call the shots. Siddaramaiah's probable game plan is to nudge Mr Kumaraswamy into seeing the writing on the wall and hand over the chief ministerial baton to him. The fly in that ointment is that JD(S) supremo H.D. Deve Gowda wants to dissolve the house and prevent the loss of any more MLAs like former state chief Mr Vishwanath to the BJP, than cede power to bete noire Mr Siddaramaiah.
As for the BJP, while it may have spirited the 11 rebel legislators to Mumbai, fuelling charges it was behind yet another Operation Lotus, it would prefer the house to be kept in suspended animation as the BJP top brass does not want the distraction of Karnataka to take away from their single-minded focus of winning the key states of Maharashtra, Haryana and Jharkhand.
Will the Congress lose its key base in the south? Will horse-trading save the day? And the bigger question — is this unnatural government worth salvaging at all?...