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Audio Clips & Swine Flu Give Relief To Ruling Coalition

Karnataka’s ruling JDS-Congress combine faces chaos, rebellion and disruptions from the BJP but it is safe for now

Audio clips seem to have come to the rescue of the Janata Dal Secular-Congress government in Karnataka just when tension was brimming with rebellious Congress legislators continuing their stay as guests of the BJP in a Mumbai five-star hotel since January.

The audio recording of a conversation purportedly between the former Chief Minister and state BJP president BS Yeddyurappa and the son of a JDS member of the legislative assembly from Gurmitkal, Yadgir district, was not any different from those which rocked the state in May last year.

That was the time when Yeddyurappa was about to seek a vote of confidence on the floor of the assembly after a hung verdict in the elections. Yeddyurappa needed to get at least nine members to prove that he enjoyed a simple majority of 113 in the 224-member assembly.

But the release of the audio clips of conversations that leaders like Yeddyurappa had with Congress legislators brought home the point to the BJP that it cannot go beyond the 104 seats it had won. Yeddyurappa offered to step down even before facing the vote of confidence.

The content of the audio clips that surfaced in May 2018 and in February 2019 is not very different. Offers of crores of rupees and ministerial berths and if Sharangouda Kandakur, son of Gurmitkal MLA, Nagangouda Kandakur and his recording of the alleged conversation with Yeddyurappa in the early hours of Friday are to be believed, “I would be given a good portfolio in which I can make good money.”

That is if he could get his father to resign from the membership of the assembly and, instead, he contested the next election. He would also be given “Rs 25 crores” according to the content of the audio clip that was released by chief minister HD Kumaraswamy.

Yeddyurappa, however, termed the tape as “fake” which someone with a film background like Kumaraswamy was very good at producing. He offered to retire from politics if Kumaraswamy could prove he had ever made a statement that the Speaker of the assembly Ramesh Kumar had been bought over with Rs 50 crores so that he was not an impediment in accepting the resignations of MLAs immediately.

What Ails Karnataka Politics?

Since May, there has been a feeling of unease between the coalition partners. Both parties have been adversaries in southern Karnataka, bordering Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh. Except for Bengaluru and Mysuru districts, the BJP has been unable to get a foothold in the rest of the southern districts.

The decision of the Congress leadership to offer the chief ministership to Kumaraswamy as soon as it realised that it was not getting a majority, changed more than one political equation. Its offer to play the role of the junior partner in the coalition despite having 80 members as against 37 of the JDS was the most critical decision that the party possibly took since the rout in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

It sent out the message to the anti-BJP parties that the Congress was not the big brother it used to be. That move to join hands with the JDS practically ended the chest-beating campaign of BJP president Amit Shah and Prime Minister Narendra Modi of a ‘Congress-mukt Bharat.’ For the first time, the BJP was not able to form a government in a state since the duo took charge of the party post-2014.

The victories in the recent by-elections to the Lok Sabha and assembly seats came as a morale booster though the feeling of discomfort persists in southern districts at the grassroots level. But, the problem of Congress MLAs turning rebels began because water resources minister DK Shiva Kumar was assertive as a district minister of Belgavi, considered the turf of Ramesh Jarkiholi, a former Congress Cabinet Minister.

Ramesh Jarkiholi was even dropped for non-performance from the ministry in December 2018 and cleverly replaced by his brother Satish Jarkiholi. The efforts of Ramesh to garner support of MLAs to resign from the assembly to facilitate the BJP to succeed in forming the government has, obviously, not been successful.

Except for five other legislators who have also holed up at the Mumbai hotel and the withdrawal of support by the two Independents to the coalition government, Ramesh Jarkiholi or, for that matter, the Yeddyurappa camp, have not been able to succeed to topple the ruling coalition. To form a government, at least 18 MLAs of either the Congress or the JDS will have to resign so that the strength of the assembly comes down and BJP gets a simple majority with its 104 members.

The Other Factor

There is no doubt that the BJP is exploiting the disgruntlement within the Congress for its benefit by launching “Operation Kamala 3.0.”  Operation Kamala was a successful experiment that was adopted by the BJP in 2008 to subvert the anti-defection law. It used this operation to reach a majority when it became the single largest party in 2008 and came to power for the first time in southern India. The operation entailed resignation of a Congress or BJP MLA on personal grounds and, subsequently, getting elected as a BJP member. The BJP succeeded five out of eight times then.

But, there is also the other critical factor for the BJP to fish in the Congress’ troubled waters. There is a sense of hurry particularly in the Yeddyurappa camp to form a government because there is apprehension that the Central leadership of the BJP would dump him the moment the Lok Sabha elections are over.

The basic reason for this fear is that Yeddyurappa completes 75 years on February 27 and, by the standards set by the duo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah, he would automatically be pushed to the Margadarshak Mandal like LK Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and other senior leaders.

He would, however, be tolerated in the party until the Lok Sabha elections because there is none in the party who commands support across the state in the BJP. It is well known that the major caste group of Lingayats has faith largely pinned on him.

Does Yeddyurappa Have The Backing Of Amit Shah?

The biggest question bothering leaders of the BJP is whether Yeddyurappa has the backing of the central leadership of the party to destabilise the coalition government. The first indication of a possible support came when all the BJP MLAs were herded into the posh resort in Gurugram in mid-January.

That was when Ramesh Jarkiholi was able to lure four other MLAs to the Mumbai hotel and the two Independents supported the BJP. The Congress and JDS leaders claimed that each of them was in touch with BJP MLAs to resign as well.

Said a BJP legislator on condition of anonymity: “I think we lost the momentum in mid-January because for two days Shahji was incommunicado when he was admitted in hospital due to swine flu. If he was not in hospital, we would have had our government in place.”

In short, it appears that one set of audio clips helped the coalition come to power in May 2018. And, another set of audio clips appear to have, at least as of now, acted as a face-saving device in February 2019. And, in between came to save the coalition the swine flu virus!

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