BJP set to create eminently avoidable history (Karnataka Newsletter)

Bangalore, Feb 1: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) created history five years ago when it came to power for the first time in Karnataka and thus in southern India. As the five-year term nears its end, it is set to enter record books with either a pyrrhic success or terrible loss of face.

The so-called success will be Chief Minister Jagadish Shettar presenting a full budget for 2013-14 though the assembly’s term is due to end in less than four months.

Elections to the 225-member Karnataka assembly are due in May. The house has 224 elected members and one member is nominated.

Shettar’s plan to present the budget to the assembly Feb 8 hinges on his government surviving the turmoil in his party that has left him with a wafer-thin majority in the house.

If he succeeds, it will be break from a healthy convention, generally followed by governments, of refraining from going in for a full budget when elections are imminent.

The BJP does not stand to gain much from junking a healthy convention.

The party is in such a bad shape in the state after five years of scandals and dissidence-marred rule that it will be a big surprise if it retains power in the coming elections.

In the last elections too, the party did not get a clear majority as it won just 110 seats and managed to come to power with the help of five of the six Independents who had been elected at that time. All five were made cabinet ministers as a reward.

Now too the BJP seems to be depending on these independents to survive if more of its members quit the assembly, in addition to the 12 who resigned from the house and the party early this week.

The 12 have joined the Karnataka Janata Party, which former chief minister B.S. Yeddyurappa has been heading after leaving the BJP and the assembly Nov 30.

With the 12 resignations, the BJP’s strength in the assembly has come down to 106, including the speaker. This is just one more than the half-way mark in the assembly – with a strength of 211 – with 14 vacancies.

The party has the support of one Independent member who is a cabinet minister.

The Congress with 71 and Janata Dal-Secular with 26 together have 97 members. There are six other Independents.

Though Shettar and state BJP chief and Deputy Chief Minister K.S. Eshwarappa say they do not expect any more desertions from the party, speculation is rife that several are planning to quit the assembly once the session starts to further embarrass the party.

As a last resort to ensure its government stays till elections and to avoid president’s rule, the BJP is said to be ready to recommend dissolution of the assembly if it gets a clear indication, before the budget session begins, of the number of people planning to quit the house.

Any which way, the BJP is destined to end its first term in power in Karnataka with a dubious distinction, a result of the party’s failure to overcome its desire for power at all costs while mouthing ‘we stand for principles at any cost’.

(V.S. Karnic can be contacted at vs.karnic@ians.in)

IANS