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Tragicomedy in Karnataka

The political drama being played out in Karnataka does no credit to any of the three principal actors — the Congress, the Janata Dal (Secular), and the Bharatiya Janata Party. No matter how the present crisis, induced by the revolt of JD (S) working president H.D. Kumaraswamy, ends, the major share of the blame for destabilising the Dharam Singh Government must fall on the Congress. Vested interests within that party alienated the JD (S) by aligning with a breakaway group, the All India Progressive Janata Dal. In the months leading to the present crisis, the Congress in Karnataka provided a copybook demonstration of how not to run a coalition. It egregiously attempted to bring into its fold the JD (S) dissident leader, S. Siddaramaiah, who now heads the AIPJD. The national president of the JD (S) and former Prime Minister, H. D. Deve Gowda, fought back by applying intense counter-pressure. Following the intervention of the Congress president, Sonia Gandhi, Mr. Siddaramaiah and his supporters were forced out of the cabinet and the ruling combine. Congress leaders, especially those in the S.M. Krishna camp, seem to have learnt nothing from this experience. After the recent panchayat elections, the State Congress favoured an underhand deal with the AIPJD in a greedy attempt to gain control over local bodies in areas where it could not get a majority. This naturally angered Mr. Gowda. The published images of Siddaramaiah supporters, in the company of Congress leaders and activists, beating Mr. Gowda's picture with slippers and burning his effigies could not have improved matters.

But the JD (S) has done itself little good through its politics of brinkmanship. The secular image of the party, nurtured by Mr. Gowda over the long term, has taken a beating thanks to his third son's coup d'etat — the decidedly anti-secular understanding he forged with the BJP to form a government. The JD (S) legislators who went along with Mr. Kumaraswamy to meet the Governor did not even pause to think of the recently tightened disqualification provisions in the Constitution. They could not have got away with it — unless the game plan was to merge with the BJP. The Hindutva party displayed rank opportunism in embracing an ideological enemy at the faintest smell of power. At this point, it also seems to have miscalculated. Senior party leaders failed to factor in Mr. Gowda's antipathy to communal politics, the loyalty he commands among JD (S) legislators, and the strong father-son bond. Stating that he was fighting for his political life, the former Prime Minister has committed himself to saving a regime he does not respect. Governor T.N. Chaturvedi must be commended for keeping a cool constitutional head and playing by the book: he has asked the Chief Minister to prove the Government's majority in a floor test no later than January 27. It is virtually guaranteed that this tragicomedy will present further twists before the denouement arrives.

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