Thursday, May 18, 2023

Karnataka Politics And The Aftermath Of The Great Battle For Being CM...

Three days ago, I posted about Karnataka politics and some crucial matters that affect the CM selection, which prolonged for some days much to the embarrassment of all the stakeholders. Today, finally, there is a decision. The Congress high command has decided that Siddaramaiah will be the CM and D. K. Shivakumar will be deputy CM for 2.5 years. While this agreement looks conveniently amicable for all parties, what exactly are the gains and losses for each party involved?

For the high command of the Congress party, the arrangement must have come as a huge relief, as it was very difficult to tame D. K. Shivakumar due to the reasons that I described in my last post. Congress is in a fix financially as far as the parliamentary elections scheduled for 2024 are concerned. The states like Rajasthan, Jharkhand, and Himachal, which are in their hands, are not that rich to cover the financials. On top of that, three more state elections—in Rajasthan, Jharkhand, and Madhya Pradesh—will happen within this year. So Congress wanted a rich state in its hand to cover the exorbitant cost of contesting in these states as well as all around India for the Loksabha, which it got after winning Karnataka.

Another important factor that Congress expects is the countrywide rise in the morale of Congress leaders and workers after a resounding victory in Karnataka. The delay in finding a CM was impacting that severely. But by selecting Siddaramaiah, it feels that a new energy and trust in its central leadership will pulsate all over the country. For example, in Kerala, the BJP was making inroads into the Christian vote base due to the perception that LDF is pro-Muslim and Congress is getting weaker by the day. But a decisive victory in the neighbourhood will cause many traditional Christian Congress voters who are thinking of an alternative to reconsider siding with Congress again. Congress will definitely feel that such a factor will work in their favour nationally.

On the negative side, we have to consider that wherever Congress has opted to divide the CM's tenure between two leaders of the state, the results have been disastrous. Karnataka and Rajasthan are prime examples. In other states too, where it ruled with regional party support, the lust for the CM post caused disastrous effects. Only time will tell how this arrangement will turn out. Another issue for Congress will be its turning a blind eye to the demands of several religious factions for the CM and Deputy CM posts. They will turn out to be a major irritant because they believe themselves to be the architects of electoral victory. But for now, Congress will be focusing on mining Karnataka for financial support to get through the elections that have to happen this year and next and not on the brewing threat of turmoil.

In the case of D K Shivakumar, who may be feeling that he is on the verge of a political harakiri, it remains to be seen how much strength he can pull off being a deputy CM. If he is able to manage and wrestle out a home minister portfolio, along with his state Congress President post, he may be able to float some clout to survive a CBI investigation. Otherwise, he needs to play every strategy in and out of the rule book to outsmart advances from three sides: Siddaramaiah, investigating agencies, and Amit Shah, who finds immense pleasure in poaching an adversary and forming a government in a hostile state. For DK, the last option may even turn out to be a lifesaver and a way to come back to the adversaries of his own party. But I believe the smart choice is to stay with the party and try to lead the way to an outstanding win again in 2024 for Congress. This will be difficult with all the pressure from all sides, but achieving this will ensure an astronomical political stock, which will be the best bargaining chip inside and outside the party, something that D. K. Shivakumar badly needs today.

Siddaramaiah is the man of the hour after winning the CM war. But for him also, there will definitely be tough times ahead. He will have any space only if he can also have his home ministry portfolio with him. Otherwise, he will be relegated to the sidelines, with DK occupying the post of State President and being Home Minister. But he can ensure that DK is out of his way simply by complying with the investigations against him. No one can fault him for that. If he gets home ministry also, there is no stopping him in Karnataka for the time being. If not, he can expect Amit Shah to eye a reentry to Karnataka through him. But the wisest option will be not to try and topple the equilibrium until the culmination of the 2024 general elections. Based on election results, he can look for the best option moving forward.

The BJP turned out to be the main loser in the election because of its unexpected defeat. It lost too many seats, nullifying any chance for a last-minute manoeuvre like it did many times before in several places. Along with losing power in a state that is an economic and cultural stronghold, it gave a chance for its opponents—literally all non-BJP parties—to believe and propagate the notion that the BJP is losing its hold. It has also given teeth to its main opponent, Congress, by claiming that it is the main opposition to the BJP at the national level, thereby reducing the superiority of various regional parties that are also opposed to the BJP.

The best option for the BJP is to closely monitor the chink in the Congress armor—infighting—and pounce on the right opportunity. It has ample chances of using the CBI to scare Shivakumar into switching sides. It can also use DK's insecurities to lure him. I am sure the BJP will also try to win over Siddaramaiah if there is any chance of disappointment. But I believe instead of attempting these acrobatics, the BJP has the best chance to purge all the muck collected within it, which is in fact primarily responsible for the debacle due to corrupted governance that alienated the common people of Karnataka. They can sit in opposition and use the opportunity to earn back goodwill through constructive interference in governance.

There is a fifth party that is the biggest loser after the entire event unfolds: JDS. They were believed to become kingmakers. But the public made sure that JDS politicians sat at their homes, licking their wounds. Still, they have a chance. They have to observe the moves of the BJP. If the BJP chooses to poach someone from the Congress, they cannot form a government due to their abysmal seat level. They need support from JDS for that. That remains the only chance for them to get themselves back into the limelight.

Politics is more entertaining than a Netflix series. It is a cesspool of opportunism, but it is still entertaining. The future of Karnataka politics, at least for the next 5 years, looks to be more thrilling than GOT and more hilarious than TBBT. Let's wait and watch the fun.

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