A day after the Karnataka election results gave no one party a clear majority, voters in the state are waiting to see who will form the next government.
On the morning of counting day on May 15, it seemed as if the BJP was well set to form the new government. But as the party fell short of nine seats to reach the majority mark of 113 in the 224-member Assembly, and with the Congress and Janata Dal (Secular) announcing a post-poll coalition, everyone is waiting to see who Karnataka governor Vajubhai Vala will first invite to form the government.
The residents of state capital Bengaluru say they want stability and progress from the next government. “We need stability more than all this politics,” said Mary S, a teacher. “We need a government that will care about the needs of the people rather than someone sitting in Delhi and just trying to get MLAs when needed.”
At the same time, they are divided about which party is best suited to deliver this. While some are apprehensive at the prospect of a coalition government because they feel such formations are inherently unstable, others said it would be better for Karnataka if the BJP formed the state government as it also ruled at the Centre, and, they reasoned, this would work in favour of the state. Almost everyone was hoping for a quick resolution to the current situation.
Coalitions in Karnataka
Karnataka is no stranger to coalition governments. The 2004 elections threw up a similar result. The BJP had emerged as the single-largest party but the Congress and Deve Gowda’s Janata Dal (Secular) joined hands. Congress’s Dharam Singh took charge as chief minister, and Siddaramaiah, who was then with the Janata Dal (Secular), became deputy chief minister. The government lasted less than two years. It fell when Deve Gowda’s son, HD Kumaraswamy, withdrew support to the Congress and tied up with the BJP. The new coalition was to work on the understanding that Kumaraswamy and the BJP’s BS Yeddyurappa would be chief ministers for 20 months each. However, Kumaraswamy refused to step down as chief minister after his 20-month stint, and the BJP withdrew support.
Harish C, a business developer who was born and brought up in Bengaluru, remembers this episode, and is consequently wary of coalition governments. “Last time, when the JD(S) and BJP merged, they could not last for more than 20 months,” he said. “This time too, if the Congress and the JD(S) join together it will not last. The BJP should be given the upper hand [in forming the government] because they at least crossed 100 seats.”
Banker Manjit Wadhwa, who has lived in Bengaluru for two years and voted in the May 12 elections, also has a dim view on the long-term prospects of the Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) coalition. “It may hold together for two or three months but then it will dismantle from within,” he said.
Wadhwa recalled the friction between Siddaramaiah and Kumaraswamy after the collapse of the Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) coalition in 2004. Siddaramaiah then left Deve Gowda’s party for the Congress. “Siddaramaiah and Kumaraswamy cannot see eye to eye and the only way for Kumaraswamy to be chief minister is for Siddaramaiah to have no role in the government,” said Wadhwa.
Others have little faith in a stable BJP-led coalition either.
“A coalition government will not work, it will fall,” said Matilda Saldanha. “Even if the BJP, as the single largest party, comes to power, there will be infighting and they will not last last.”
Unsurprisingly, voters are also now expecting parties to play dirty in order to lure MLAs from other parties into their camps.
There is a precedent for this too. In the 2008 Assembly election, the BJP was short of a simple majority by three seats. It then launched Operation Lotus, in which it lured MLAs from the Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular) into its fold by offering them inducements. In 2013, when Yeddyurappa broke away from the BJP briefly and launched his own party called the Karnataka Janata Paksha, he said he regretted Operation Lotus.
Yeddyurappa is now the BJP’s chief ministerial candidate but Bengaluru residents say they are expecting similar horse-trading. “The BJP needs another eight MLAs and they might buy them over,” said Asha Narayanswamy. “They have support from the government at the Centre also.”
Ashok Ponnappa, a planter from Coorg, echoed this view. “The BJP will not keep quiet,” he said. “There will be horse-trading because they will do whatever it takes to get power.”
Who is better for Karnataka?
Some voters felt that the BJP would be better for the state as it also ruled the Centre.
“There is no other power to lead the country besides Modi,” said Mathew, who runs his own business. “With that as the case, it is better to have the same government at the Centre and at the state.”
His friend, Ponnappa, agreed. “For Karnataka, the best scenario would be to have the same government at the Centre and at the state,” he said. “Whatever projects have to be carried out can be done in unison.”
Others felt the BJP would administer the state capital better. A long-time Bengaluru resident, who works in a bank and who did not want to be identified, said: “The BJP by right should form the government because they have worked for it – both Modi and Amit Shah. I don’t want a Congress back because I know what a mess they have in administering the city. Yeddyurappa is a good administrator.”
But Mary S, the teacher, felt that a Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) coalition would be better for Karnataka. “I know the last time they had a coalition they had a chief minister for two years and then it kept changing,” she said. “That should not happen, but I think a coalition of Congress and JD(S) will be better for Karnataka than the BJP.”
Bengaluru resident Noorjahan agreed. “A coalition government [of the Congress-Janata Dal (Secular)] is better,” she said. “The BJP wants to change the Constitution and we do not want that. I am not worried about the stability of a coalition government. They have formed governments like this before and will do a better job this time.”
Whichever way the chips fall, everyone is hoping the uncertaintly ends soon.