Challenges from within: How would Karnataka CM deal with his senior minister’s rebellion?
The rebellion by Mr K S Eshwarappa, is the latest in a series of events one has witnessed the last year and a half, to challenge the actions of the Chief Minister. Ever since Mr Yediyurappa assumed office as Chief Minister in July 2019, the journey has been lined with one challenge after another. The delay in being given the nod to form the government, the foisting of three Deputy Chief Minsters, the many attempts to expand the Council of Ministers and the distribution of portfolios, the choice of BJP nominees for Rajya Sabha and State Legislative Council elections all indicate that the Chief Minister has found it difficult to have his way. The working style of the Chief Minister in the current term is also indicative of a sense of political fatigue having set in. The latest salvo by Mr. Eshwarappa is one more indication of the growing internal dissension.
Two factors need to be budgeted into this analysis. Given the internal discipline with which the BJP has been known to function, it is difficult to imagine Mr Eshwarappa taking such a stance without the tacit support of the powers to be within the party. The fact that he has addressed the communication to the General Secretary of the Party as well as the Prime Minister is indicative of his efforts to cover all flanks. Thus it could well be called an engineered or inspired rebellion. Secondly, it would be important to assert that Mr Yediyurappa is not the first Chief Minister to have taken such action. In fact, it could be convincingly argued that a survey across the country, irrespective of party in power, would show that Chief Ministers asserting their authority and influence in decision making in the government has become more of a norm than an exception. Mr Eshwarappa's actions have important implications for the principle of collective responsibility - a cardinal norm on the basis of which the Council of Ministers in a parliamentary system functions.
The wider political implications of Mr Eshwarappa's actions merit attention. The government in Karnataka has been moving from one political crisis to another. Having been able to come to power because of the rebellion by a few congress legislators required the BJP to accommodate them once they for re-elected to the legislature. This brought to the fore the contradictions between the loyalists and the newcomers. While this was explained away as an inevitable compromise to be able to come to power, the Chief Minister has had to battle on multiple flanks simultaneously. Having to go by the directions of the central leadership of the party was just one the factors. The internal contradictions and divisions within the party were all too visible. Competing demands by different interests compounded the challenges further. The nibbling irritations caused the role of the Chief Ministers family members further heightened the tensions. Mr Eshwarappa's actions need to be seen in this context. His attack is directly aimed at the Chief Minister even as he proclaims his unwavering loyalty to the party.
Given the fact that the Karnataka Legislative Assembly will soon be completing three years of its term, it is clear that any move for a leadership change must happen well before the next elections. With elections due in 2023, a new leader would need at least two years to settle in and lead the campaign in the next elections. While a leadership change in Karnataka is something that has been spoken of for quite some time now, it appears to be emerging as a clear possibility with every passing day. Given the fact that the Chief Minister has not displayed the type of political energy that was typical of him in his earlier terms, one wonders whether the moment of transition is fast approaching. How smooth will that transition be and whether it would have major political costs is what the BJP leadership must be a bit vary off. Mr Eshwarppa's actions appear to be just one more step in a dramatically unfolding political drama.
(Dr. Sandeep Shastri has been a keen student of Karnataka politics for over four decades)
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