It has been a week of chaos in Karnataka. Since July 1, the state’s Janata Dal (Secular)-Congress coalition government has been on the verge of collapse, with the resignation of 14 MLAs from these parties.
Both parties have accused the Bharatiya Janata Party of orchestrating the rebellion. One indication of this, they said, was the fact that ten of the rebels were flown for safekeeping to Mumbai on Friday in a plane belonging to a company owned by a BJP Rajya Sabha member.
The Karnataka assembly has 225 seats, and with each resignation that is accepted, the halfway point for a party to achieve a majority becomes lower.
The Congress-Janata Dal (S) coalition now has the support of 104 MLAs. The BJP probably has 107, given that independent legislator H Nagesh and Karnataka Pragnyavantha Janatha Party’s R Shankar who also resigned their seats are likely to support the BJP. But on Tuesday, the Speaker Ramesh Kumar said he would decide on whether to accept the resignations only after the MLAs meet him individually.
As several Supreme Court judgments have noted, the decision on whether a state government has majority support can only be decided on the floor of the Assembly. But the manner in which the coalition is trying to sustain its majority has made a mockery of constitutional democracy.
In an attempt to keep the dissidents from quitting, the coalition decided to give them positions in the cabinet. To allow this to happen, all the Congress and JD (S) ministers on Monday resigned from their cabinet positions so that the rebels could be accommodated in their places. When the rebel MLAs stuck to their decision to resign, the Congress on Tuesday appealed to the Speaker Ramesh Kumar to disqualify them and ensure they would not be able to contest elections for six years. The demand has no legal basis and is merely an attempt to bully the dissidents. The Congress believes that if their prospect of re-election is curtailed, the MLAs will have no choice but to withdraw their resignations.
However, the Congress and the JD (S) seem to be working under the assumption that this is a one-time situation. Even if these dissidents accept the offer of ministerial posts and bury the differences with their parties, there is nothing to prevent the BJP from precipitating another another crisis in the future.
The coalition’s actions have given cause for worry. It is treating ministerial berths like bargaining chips, unmindful of the fact that the council of ministers plays a vital role in ensuring efficient governance in a state. It has signalled that it will allow positions in the cabinet to be traded for the semblance of loyalty to the coalition, just so that it can stay in power.
In this crude political game between the BJP and the Congress, it is the Constitution and the citizens that are suffering.