BJP’s Quest for Power: Karnataka Done. Is Maharashtra Next?

The fact that 17 MLAs in one shot toppled a govt in power shows that no govt is safe from such an assault. 

4 min read
BJP’s Quest for Power: Karnataka Done. Is Maharashtra Next?

The results in the by-elections to 15 assembly constituencies in Karnataka has left the Congress, JD(S) and, more importantly, the spirit of anti-defection laws, devastated. It was a well-scripted political game that started soon after the BJP swept to power in New Delhi in May.

17 Congress and JD(S) MLAs resigned, and the two-party coalition government headed by HD Kumaraswamy collapsed in July.

The resignation and subsequent disqualification of such a large number of MLAs did not just topple an existing government, but also ensured that the numbers in the House were reduced to an extent where a new BJP government with 106 MLAs —whereas a full house requires 113 — could be sworn in.


Risk Is Now Limited to Fighting a Re-Election

To hit back at the MLAs and ensure that such resignations do not set a precedent for engineered defections of this scale, the then Speaker of the House, KR Ramesh Kumar, had disqualified the 17 MLAs, and ordered that they would not be allowed to return to the House until its term came to a close. Which meant they could not get postings or Cabinet berths in the new government that they had helped install.

But the Supreme Court, while upholding the disqualification of the MLAs, held that they can contest a fresh election and return to the House in the present term.

In spirit, this limits the punishment for defecting to another party through a resignation; the risk is now limited to fighting a re-election.

The order paved the way for by-elections in 15 out of 17 assembly constituencies, and as expected, 13 MLAs who won in 2018 on Congress or JD(S) tickets, were fielded by the BJP. 11 have been re-elected to the House.

Two of the defected MLAs, in the 15 seats that went to polls, were not given tickets. One was the controversial former state minister Roshan Baig, tainted by the IMA scam, and the other, R Shankar from the Ranebennur seat, was promised entry into the Upper House, and supported the BJP candidate in the bypolls.

Brute-Force Politics

Among the 11 who won today are the likes of former minister Ramesh Jarkiholi. The Jarkiholi family has massive hold in Belgavi district and controls the Gokak constituency. It has such a stranglehold that the Congress was forced to field Ramesh’s brother Lakhan Jarkiholi and the results were a foregone conclusion!

Other returning MLAs include those like Mahesh Kumatalli, Anand Singh, Shivaram Hebbar and ST Somashekar who will demand their pound of flesh and have the brute power to create instability. All these MLAs will enjoy berths in the Cabinet and other lucrative postings, and anti-defection legislation did not and will not matter to them.

Their victory shows that no matter what they do, they have the last word in their constituencies.

It was accommodation and the cultivation of the infamous Reddy brothers, who had an iron grip over Ballari and indulged in brute bargaining, that led to the rise and collapse of the BJP and BS Yediyurappa in the state between 2007 and 2012. Unfortunately, in its quest for power, the BJP and Yediyurappa have created and emboldened a new set of MLAs and leaders who can hold a government to ransom, like the Reddys. It may have to pay a price eventually, and has already lost moral authority on this issue.


Can BJP Topple Maha Vikas Aghadi in Maharashtra?

The resignation and re-entry also sets a precedent and charts the way, legally and electorally, to defeat the anti-defection legislation anywhere in the country. The resignation modus operandi may involve the risk of fighting a fresh election, but for candidates who have a powerful hold over their constituencies, it offers an enormous bargaining chip.

In fact, what is worrying is the scale of the exercise in Karanataka. The Congress-JD(S) government had a comfortable majority when it was toppled. And, the requirement to topple and form a new government was not in the hands of just two or three MLAs.

The fact that 17 MLAs in one shot toppled a government in power shows that no government, irrespective of the majority it has, is safe from such an assault. And, that brings attention to neighbouring Maharashtra.

Maharashtra also has a fragile coalition government in place and the BJP, as it did in Karnataka, claims it has the ‘moral right’ to be in power. The threat of a similar experiment should certainly worry the Maha Vikas Aghadi.

While the numbers required for such an experiment in Maharashtra are much steeper, for today's BJP, nothing seems impossible in its quest for power.

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(The writer is an independent journalist. He can be reached @TMVRaghav . This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same)

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