Karnataka politics: Short term measures without a long term vision?
The impact of the inconclusive Assembly verdict of the Karnataka voter is being clearly felt months after the polls. Inconclusive outcomes have invariably led to strange compromises and short term power strategies to gain the maximum immediate political dividend. This assumes even greater significance as the country gears up for a national poll next year. Political developments in Karnataka, both at the party level and in terms of government -opposition strategizing, make for interesting analysis.
The JDS-Congress coalition government appears to be chugging along in fits and starts and sometimes unclear of the direction it wishes to take. The alliance partners often seem to be behaving as if the left hand does not know (or care) for what the right hand is doing. Being in the driver's seat, the JDS seems to be making the best of the opportunity. Uncertain of how long this unexpected moment in power will last, the Chief Minister and his party are keen to make the best of this political windfall that has come their way.
The JDS is making the best of having an alliance partner which has the penchant to speak in multiple voices. Ever since the Congress accepted a coalition arrangement in which it would be the junior partner, the party seems to have entered a phase of uncertainty. One has noticed in the past, that unity in the state unit of the Congress has always (and only) been possible when the Central leadership of the party makes clear as to who is in charge in the state.
The collective leadership has never actually worked or placed the party at an advantage. Collective leadership has always opened the gateways to a power struggle and open demonstration of disunity in the party. One is not sure as to who is in charge: is it the Convener of the Coordination Committee and the CLP leader or the Deputy Chief Minister or the KPCC President? or all of them? or none of them!
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Especially when you are running a coalition government where you have the larger numbers and when preparing for a national poll, it is important that the party anoints a captain. The frequent statements by Congress leaders, often reflecting the mood of the day, would further confound the confusion. Given the fact that the Karnataka experiment is seen as a model for the anti-BJP national coalition, the coalition government must be seen to perform and act in one voice. Not a day passes, without the contradictions in the coalition not being highlighted. It looks as if the coalition government is merely looking to carry on till the Lok Sabha elections and its future would depend on the results in those elections both at the state and national level. It is increasingly clear, little effort has been made by the coalition to invest in gaining public confidence through its concrete actions of governance at the ground level.
The BJP appears to watching developments with glee from the sidelines. They could not have asked for a more tantalizing political script. While the state BJP leadership may be keen to fish in the troubled waters and demolish the coalition government, the central leadership is clearly exercising restraint. While the state leadership has its eye on coming to power in the state, the Central leadership is more keen to focus on next year's Lok Sabha elections.
Given the increasingly competitiveness of next year's national contest, the BJP would be keen on a good showing in Karnataka (at least a better showing as compared to 2014 and not just maintaining the status quo). They are hoping for the sympathy factor ( of having been unable to manage a majority in the state even though they were excitingly close to it) to work in their favour.
The working of the coalition government in the state is also something that the BJP is hoping will work in their favour. Yet, below the apparent calm in the state BJP are the strong rumblings of unhappiness and groupism. This has the potential of upsetting the BJP applecart.
The coming months that would see an increasing focus on the ensuing national polls, is crucial for all the three key players in the state. Do they have a well planned strategy in place or are their actions going to be mere short term reactions to immediate developments hold the key.
(Dr Sandeep Shastri is a leading political scientist and Pro Vice Chancellor, Jain University)
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