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Sordid Democratic Process

ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL WEEKLY Sordid Democratic Process Karnataka now has a new chief minister, H D Kumaraswamy of the Janata Dal(S), who organised the large-scale desertion of Janata Dal(S) members from the parent party, ended the alliance with the Congress and then teamed up with the BJP, the largest single party in the present Karnataka assembly. The proposed Janata Dal(S) arrangement with the BJP will be a form of rotational sharing of power, as in Jammu and Kashmir between the People

February 4, 2006


Sordid Democratic Process

arnataka now has a new chief minister, Deve Gowda has publicly distanced himself from his H D Kumaraswamy of the Janata Dal(S), son and resigned from the presidentship of the JD(S). who organised the large-scale desertion of Such public gesturing is up for contesting interpreta-Janata Dal(S) members from the parent party, ended tions. But it is somewhat incredible that Deve Gowda, the alliance with the Congress and then teamed up with whose control over the JD(S) in Karnataka is legendary the BJP, the largest single party in the present Karnataka and whose capacity for political intrigues no less, should assembly. The proposed Janata Dal(S) arrangement have been ignorant of the developments leading to the with the BJP will be a form of rotational sharing of coup within the party led by his son. The roots of the power, as in Jammu and Kashmir between the People’s present crisis can in fact be seen in the dismissal of the Democratic Party and Congress. former deputy chief minister Siddaramaiah and his group

Changing party affiliations of politicians as well as from the Janata Dal(S), which was a political move chiefly shifting alliances and mergers of political parties have masterminded by Deve Gowda. That was a significant become the bread and butter of India’s democratic political landmark in the party’s history in Karnataka, given practice. In Karnataka too this is not a new phenomenon. Siddaramaiah’s powerful backward class support. But Prior to the 2004 assembly elections, a large number of the rise of Kumaraswamy in the party could take place All India Progressive Janata Dal (AIPJD) members went only in the vacuum created by Siddaramaiah’s dismissal. across to become members of the Congress. The same In an era when coalition governments appear to be AIPJD had aligned with the BJP in the 1999 elections. the emerging pattern all over the country, the most

The JD(S) and its leader Deve Gowda were perceived critical question concerns the norms underlying political in the public eye to have taken, until this episode, a collaborative arrangements. Since the Siddaramaiah defined stand against the BJP. The shift, now, of a large episode, the Congress has systematically attempted to number of Janata Dal(S) party members towards the BJP take advantage of the fracture within the JD(S), by a is a betrayal of the political support of their voters. It certaincourting of the Siddaramaiah group, and has engaged also leaves entirely open the question of what would inpetty brawls with the JD(S) leadership over ministerial be the position of the party in the future on issues defined berths. Indeed, the fall of the Congress-led government by the secular-fundamentalist divide. While politics and is a consequence partly of futile attempts to edge out political opportunism are pretty much indistinguishable the JD(S), and the complete failure of the leadership, in the Indian context, this latest incident possibly within the party as well as in the government, to perceive represents an all-time low. the need to forge a broad, consensual understanding with

Several questions need to be asked, not the least of the JD(S), that would have been essential to keep out

which is, what makes a leader, and what constitutes the the BJP, if for nothing else. In the event, the BJP has

road to power. Kumaraswamy, a first time MLA since the last laugh, at least for the time being.

2004, is a political unknown, apart from being Deve Additionally in this case, both the legal and institutional

Gowda’s son. His views on economic policy, for checks appear to have failed. Political party defections were

example,are completely unknown, and his readiness to made illegal by a constitutional amendment. Section1(B)

align with the BJP leaves many shadows on his politics. written into Article 164 of the Constitution, through the

Indeed, we need to question a democratic system which 97th Amendment in 2003, bars a disqualified legislator

allows the easy rise of such fly-by-night operators to from being a minister. From this viewpoint, several

positions of highest governmental power. strands of political opinion within the Congress as well

as the Janata Dal(S) had harboured the hope that the speaker of the Karnataka assembly would disqualify Kumaraswamy and his rebel group. In recognising Kumaraswamy as the leader of the Janata Dal(S), the speaker, from the same party, has laid himself open to much questioning of his role.

The situation is of course murky. Kumaraswamy has not,strictly speaking, defected to another political party. It is, however, not clear in what terms one could categorise the rebel’s action. The alignment of a party bearing the “Secular” tag with the BJP is surely a defection in spirit, if not in letter. Then again, the Janata Dal(S) parliamentary party leader, M P Veerendra Kumar, has made a statement to the effect that Kumaraswamy and his group would be expelled from the party shortly. Indeed, if that happens, it would appear that there do exist certain normative corrective valves within the system. But of course it is not difficult to foresee in that case, the formation of a new political party by Kumaraswamy, or even his wholesale merger with the BJP. EPW

Economic and Political Weekly February 4, 2006

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