By refusing to quickly resolve the ministerial issue in Karnataka, the Congress is reminding Kumaraswamy of who the boss is
At last, HD Kumaraswamy could not suppress his Mann Ki Baat. On Sunday, the Karnataka Chief Minister said he was “obligated” not to the 6.5 crore people of the State but to the Congress which had brought him to power. He added that he was at the mercy of the national party. He stated that he would have to consult his political lifeline on keeping his promise of waiving farmers’ loans and that he would quit in case he failed to honour his assurance.
He was aware of the pitfalls, of the Congress’s track record in bringing down Governments it supports, and of the fact that he would have to surrender the pound of flesh the Congress would demand, or quit
Soon after the media went to town with Kumaraswamy’s pathetic remarks and painted him in poor light, his supporters swung to control the damage. They first said that his statements had become a victim of the ‘lost in translation’ syndrome — he had spoken in Kannada and the English version had missed out on the essentials. When it was pointed out that the Chief Minister had expressed a similar sentiment in English later, they gave a spin in defence, claiming that Kumaraswamy had merely said he had to discuss policy-making with his coalition partner and that there was nothing wrong in that. They added that he had demonstrated no disrespect to the people of the State because he was merely stating a fact: That he was in Chief Minister due to the Congress’s support.
Such clarifications do not take away from his helplessness. It’s been a week since the time of writing and the Chief Minister does not have a ministry — there’s just him and his deputy from the Congress. The national party is bargaining hard for important portfolios — according to media reports, it wants Finance and PWD at the very least. The Congress has the bargaining power and it’s natural for it to use it to the fullest. That Kumaraswamy has been resisting the demands is obvious from the delay in Cabinet formation. But he cannot hold on for long unless he wants to break the alliance and claim martyrdom. It’s a Catch 22 situation for him.
But he deserves no mercy. Kumaraswamy went into this coalition with his eyes and ears open. He was aware of the pitfalls, of the Congress’s track record in bringing down Governments it supports, and of the fact that he would have to surrender the pound of flesh the Congress would demand, or quit. But the Janata Dal (Secular) leader was so intoxicated by the lure of power, or by the persuasive skills of his father HD Deve Gowda, that he refused to see reason. He failed to recognise that he was being used as a pawn by the Congress whose sole intention was to keep the Bharatiya Janata Party out of power. The Congress had no love for Kumaraswamy — or for his father or his party. During the election campaign, it had ridiculed the JD (S) as a “B team” of the BJP and had poked fun at JD (S) supremo Deve Gowda. Or perhaps Kumaraswamy knew the game and yet fell into the trap.
The dynasty has done it to people from within the party too. Manmohan Singh is a good example of a dutiful leader
After having made the ‘supreme sacrifice’ of giving the chief ministerial post to the Janata Dal (Secular), the Congress sees no reason for further concessions. It has its own party interests in the State to look after and it has to appease its senior leaders who are cut up with the arrangement that has allowed Kumaraswamy to become the Chief Minister. It is, of course, possible that the Congress may give in a bit more to keep the alliance intact, or that the Chief Minister will relent for a similar reason. But neither of the two cases will ensure smooth operation in governance. Kumaraswamy must reconcile himself to a forgettable tenure, assuming he lasts longer than is widely expected.
The Congress’s behaviour is not surprising as it is in keeping with the feudal mindset that exists in the party as a result of the politics of dynasty which has seeped in. The Congress sees in Kumaraswamy a ‘subject’ that the king has elevated in its magnanimity; and a ‘subject’ that is expected to, despite its elevated status, remain subjugated to the ruler. The dynasty has done it to people from within the party too. Manmohan Singh is a good example of a dutiful leader. The dynasty had earlier tried similar tricks with PV Narasimha Rao but he proved more than a match for it once he became Prime Minister. Outside the party, the Congress played with the prime ministership of Chandra Shekhar, Charan Singh, IK Gujral and Deve Gowda. Now, by refusing to quickly resolve the ministerial issue in Karnataka, the Congress is reminding Kumaraswamy of who the boss is.
What lies in store? Will the JD (S)-Congress partnership survive these initial scares or will there eventually be a Bihar-like situation — where the RJD-Janata Dal (United) coalition collapsed, the BJP extended support to outgoing Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and a JD (U)-BJP regime was put in place? It will be something of an achievement if the present ruling combine in Karnataka remains intact until the 2019 Lok Sabha election.
1. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.