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Karnataka Pattern: A LESSON IN COALITION, By Dr.S. Saraswathi, 8 February 2019 Print E-mail

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New Delhi, 8 February 2019

Karnataka Pattern


By Dr.S. Saraswathi

(Former Director, ICSSR, New Delhi)


“Is this the way to run a coalition government, where every day you have to request your coalition partner not to give unparliamentary remarks?” asked former Prime Minister and father of the present Chief Minister of Karnataka, H.D.Deve Gowda, after his son and CM offered to resign.

Karnataka Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy has been reiterating his readiness to step down from his post in reaction to constant criticism of his style of functioning by some Congress members, and this time has even mentioned 6th February as the date. It has raised a doubt whether he will present the Budget this year. On this, JD(S) President Deve Gowda asked the Congress leadership to rein the State leaders, who were not allowing the CM to work. “Things have already reached a final stage. Before the situation goes out of control, the Congress high command must intervene and impress upon their State leaders. I am seething with anger from within and watching the developments carefully”, he said.

Karnataka presents a typical model of coalition government that goes through crisis everyday and survives day-by-day true to the proverb in Tamil, “nithya gandam, purna aayush” (meaning a fatal danger every day and a complete life term).

Karnataka has earned the distinction of forming a government headed by a Chief Minister driven to shed “political tears” over his fate to head a coalition government of electoral rivals.   Even when governments have fallen due to internal frictions or by sudden withdrawal of promised support, no Chief Minister or Prime Minister has ever been driven to exhibit his emotions so publicly. Clearly, uneasy that wears the crown! How long the situation will last and how it will end depends on the future course of Karnataka pattern of coalition government of rivals.

The Congress and the JD(S), ever since the formation of the coalition government in Karnataka are always bickering, which has become more intense in view of approaching General election and seat-sharing arrangements. The CM confirmed that he said that he would resign if Congress leaders continued to take potshots at him. “How many more days can I tolerate such stuff?” he asked at the National JD(S) Convention. All the three major parties -- the BJP, Congress, and the JD(S) – are once again on election mood with the hope to increase their individual strength. 

Remember, the present coalition government is a post-poll alliance between two rivals, who bitterly fought against each other in Assembly polls. The present CM belongs to a party that ranks third in membership strength in the Assembly far below the first. Neither by number nor by political affinity, the coalition partners are on even level. On the contrary, they are even now competitors to power and positions.

Deve Gowda seems to believe that Congress Chief Siddaramaiah is nursing a grudge against him as one who scuttled his chances of becoming CM twice – once in 1996 and then in 2004.  The focal point of Karnataka coalition is the post of CM and nothing else seems to matter.

The unstable coalition is constantly experiencing severe shaking from within. The CM, who belongs to JD(S), which can have no legitimate ambition with just 30 members to form the government, is forced to put up with all kinds of insults and criticism from the Congress MLAs.  One of them is reported to have remarked that he considers only Congress Chief Siddaramaiah as the leader and not the JD(S) chief as CM.

Fresh trouble started recently with fears about poaching of coalition MLAs by the BJP, which is the largest party in the Assembly and is short of a very few seats to get majority. The charge was returned by the BJP also with the result that both the Congress and the BJP resorted to “resort politics” to keep their flock intact. 

‘Operation Kamal’, as it is named, has not yielded any substantial results for the BJP so far. Two independents have come over to the BJP. The party hopes to get the support of sufficient members of the Congress so that it can claim majority to form the government. These developments expose the instability of coalitions formed by parties that are numerically far below the majority mark.

Karnataka model is bound to discourage gathbandhan and mahagathbandhan of dozens of parties, which will fight against one another and join together after elections if conditions permit to form a coalition government, which may prove to be more a collusion between opponents than a harmonious understanding for good governance. The weakness of this model   is that neither of the partners is anywhere near majority to nurse ambitions to form the government and leadership has gone to a party ranking third in the legislative Assembly. 

Post-poll alliances have become common in India. But, it needs one strong central party much above other constituents in number. Regional parties will have a bright future in national politics if they are not confined to local politics and ally thoughtfully with a national party on national issues.

Governance of the country is not the sum total of governance of States and Union Territories, but covers the nation as a whole as one united entity. Symbolic holding of hands together may make a visual impact for getting votes, but not adequate for governance of the nation.

While national parties are often blamed for ignoring the federal structure and principles, the attitude of regional parties in ignoring over-all national interests in their preoccupation with State/regional interests is overlooked.  Federal fronts are inherently weak in this sense and have to develop a national perspective safeguarding regional interests.

Though forming what is called a surplus majority coalition by a few seats, the partners in Karnataka government have no common agenda or policy or sub-regional and geographical compatibility. Absence of a pre-electoral seat-sharing as well as grievances in post-electoral portfolio sharing makes a weak coalition. The minor partner being  gifted with the post of CM is itself a weak arrangement and a blatantly political arrangement with the sole aim of keeping away the largest party from power which needs only a few members to stake claim to form government. Meanwhile, it is reported that the JD(S) is exploring possibilities of expanding its presence in other States.

Alliances and coalitions in India are certainly not unique to the country, but the way they occur are. Almost all European countries have coalition governments in which parties retain their identity. In Britain, the Labour Party and the Cooperative Party form pre-poll alliances since they came to an agreement in 1927. A Socialist Coalition of RMT, Socialist Party, Solidarity candidates known as Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition was formed to contest 2010 general election. Possibility of sharing a common list of candidates and a common programme existed in the Dutch system between 1973 and 2017 and was abolished.

Karnataka pattern is a typical model of sharing power and not ensuring stability and progress between two rivals designed by the Congress and the JD(S) that deserves to be discarded, but needs to be studied for the lessons it contains for tackling current electoral scenario.---INFA

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

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