BS Yeddyurappa’s anti-climactic resignation without facing the trust vote a mere 52-hours after being sworn in as chief minister of Karnataka sends out powerful messages and raises some important questions. Removed from the clutter of moral grandstanding by the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress-Janata Dal (S) combine, it would be important to ask whether the BJP’s Karnataka strongman would have taken the same route had the Supreme Court not stepped in. Indeed, the weekend drama contains powerful pointers for all political formations concerned, and this is not limited to Karnataka. The development in Bangalore is the first serious setback for the famed political management of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah. Moreover, it seems to have triggered alignment moves among anti-BJP parties. Having tasted success in taking on an aggressive BJP in Karnataka, the Congress party and Rahul Gandhi will not be faulted for believing that they could become the rallying point for anti-BJP forces in the run-up to the next Lok Sabha elections. In their moment of triumph, though, it would be worthwhile to read the full import of West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s words – she described it as the victory of the “regional front” in Karnataka, surely giving the Congress fewer marks than it would have expected.
Drawing lessons from the bungled attempt to come to power in Karnataka, the BJP will have to quickly embark on a winning strategy in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh where legislative assembly elections are due this year-end. A key element of that would be to keep at bay the anti-BJP alliance, invigorated by the Karnataka developments. While a divided opposition will benefit the BJP, the Congress is bound to mobilise all political resources at its command to prevent a split in opposition votes.
In redrawing tactics, the BJP leadership will have no option but to sack or disown politically naïve backroom operators who made a last-minute bid to buy out legislators in Karnataka. The BJP might have had a claim to power in the state. It lost that. With Yeddyurappa’s resignation, it also lost the moral high ground that it claimed to occupy as the anti-thesis of the Congress brand of politics. Now, it might even have to requisition new forces to protect its governments in Bihar, Manipur, Meghalaya and Goa. Chief ministers in these states could face no trust moves that would be intended to challenge the supremacy of the BJP. Meanwhile, the road ahead for the Congress is going to be long. Gloating over Karnataka may not be a good strategy because it was, after all, behind the BJP by a long way in the final tally of seats. Its stakes in a hopelessly divided state unit have only gone up given those who would target a still powerful Siddaramaiah. As experience shows, the JD(S) is not necessarily a reliable ally and in the vote-bank politics of Karnataka, the two parties would make strange bed fellows. To provide stability to the state government, the two partners would need to weave in an alliance and a common minimum programme.
While HD Kumaraswamy takes the reins later this week, this could perhaps be his last shot at power if his party does not deftly manage political relations – it has only 38 members in a 226-members house. At the national level, the battle lines seem to be drawn between the BJP and the opposition. While the BJP has to cement relations with NDA allies and work out a new model for governance in states and at the Centre, the Congress may have to bring all anti-BJP forces under a grand UPA umbrella. By playing host to Karnataka Congress MLAs, Telangana chief minister K Chandrasekhara Rao has sent out powerful signals too. Rao may be willing to ditch the so-called federal front in the making and play along with the opposition led by the Congress at the national level. All this may not happen quickly. A lot of hard work needs to be put in by Congress political managers to smoothen the roughen edges in its ties with the regional parties.