Saturday, October 13, 2007

Unprincipled Politics in Karnataka

Editorial to be published in Economic and Political Weekly
Unprincipled Politics

President's rule in Karnataka has been declared after the breakdown of the alliance between the Janata Dal (Secular) (JD(S)) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The coalition government formed was on the basis of a power-sharing arrangement which envisaged a handing over of the reins of the chief minister's post from the JD(S) to the BJP after 20 months of rule. This arrangement also involved elaborate division of ministries among both the parties. The JD(S) breaking the covenant, refused to hand over the post of chief minister to the BJP, whose nominee, deputy chief minister B.S.Yediyurappa was supposed to replace the current incumbent from the JD(S), H.D.Kumaraswamy, chief minister since January 2006.

This display of breach of trust has been widely berated, for the reasons offered by the JD(S) for their actions amount to nothing. The sudden discovery by the JD(S) of the communal character of the BJP (even as no such classification was made in the first place during the formation of the coalition) will not convince anyone. Simply put, this action by the JD(S) amounts to petty politics.

This form of power sharing arrangement which lays impetus to ministerial posts and executive positions is not new and neither is the drama that follows the breakdown of such arrangements. In the recent past (in 1997), the BJP had a similar arrangement with the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) whose nominee Mayawati as chief minister was supposed to hand over reins to the BJP nominee after a specified period. The transfer of power never happened, resulting in the collapse of the arrangement and declaration of president's rule. A similar situation occurred with the People's Democratic Party (PDP)- Congress arrangement in Jammu and Kashmir, however, after some wrangling, smooth transfer of power did in fact take place.

Most of these arrangements have been made necessary (or atleast such is the reason provided by the parties involved) because of the fragmented nature of the verdicts in the assembly elections. Owing to no decisive victories for any parties in many states, such short-lived and expedient arrangements have been attempted. The sad state of such arrangements is the fact that alliances thus formed, despite the peoples' verdicts, do not coalesce and function according to common policy prerogatives or programmes. The bottomline that governs the formation of such alliances is not a give-and-take on issues or on specific programmatic outlines from the parties that partake in such alliances. It is more to do with the trappings and perks of ministerial power as these posts are seen as avenues to extend patronage to sections and to win over newer segments. Contradictions between the parties are swept under the carpet and the emphasis is on somehow latching on to ministries. The period of early bonhomie invariably vanishes as the alliance enters into a zone of problems, as has proven in the recent case in Karnataka.

The formal alliance between the JD(S) and the BJP was achieved after a segment of the JD(S) which was dissatisfied with the ruling coalition with the Congress (Dharam Singh was the chief minister and JD(S) leader Siddaramaiah was the deputy chief minister in this arrangement after the 2004 assembly elections which lasted till January 2006), broke away to align with the BJP, which had won the single largest number of seats in the elections. The new chief minister Kumaraswamy had justified this unprincipled move by saying that he was keen on a programme of economic development “more important than abstract notions of secularism”. By invoking secularism again as the main reason for the non-transfer of power now, it is clear that alliance was founded upon opportunistic basis in the first instance itself.

The fragmented nature of the polity, with several parties appealing to core sections of the populace has resulted in fractured verdicts, which in turn has meant political arrangements made out of expediency. However fickle a verdict might be, it does not mean that opportunist alliances can be formed without a commonly agreed policy outlook. There is every possibility of instability because of disagreements on various policy positions, but this arrangement is certainly more principled and respectful to the peoples' verdict as compared to a mere portfolio sharing agreement involving rotation of seats of power.


Ramganesh said...

On the topic itself, there is little to debate on the opportunism and greed for power displayed by all parties concerned in Karnataka.

I find this harping on secularism by these jokers even more amusing. I believe that secularism, much like the nuclear deal, is of zero relevance to most of our population. Thus, at the very least, Gowda and company should be manufacturing other reasons for their breach of contract than this one!

After all, it is some of the parties that keep harping on secularism when they find no other issue to battle the BJP with. I haven't seen a single election won on secularism. But I HAVE seen elections won on the communal plank when atmosphere is surcharged (e.g. BJP after 1992, Modi after Gujarat riots, etc)

Thus, politicians, opportunistic as they are, can learn from this and stop talking of this nonsensical concept (from the electorate's point of view at least)

Srini said...

More than being an election issue, Secularism is an important cornerstone of Indian democracy. I don't suppose that India will remain India if it's devoid of secularism. The trouble is that many people attest their own meanings to the secularism that is being followed or "should" be followed.