Balancing act for Kumaraswamy as lofty challenges await the new government

Last Updated: Mon, May 28, 2018 15:43 hrs
H D Kumaraswamy

The Congress – JD(S) alliance is all set to form the government in Karnataka. The new Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy of the JD(S) was sworn in with a show of opposition unity. Political big wigs such as West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and her Andhra Pradesh counterpart Chandrababu Naidu attended the swearing in as a show of unity in a message clearly directed at the BJP and Modi.

Now, standing before Kumaraswamy is the task of governing through an alliance with the large national party. HD Kumaraswamy faces challenges ahead politically and state wide, after a fraught election that saw the need for the Supreme Court to intervene. The Indian Express editorial points out some of the challenges ahead for the new government –

The JD(S) and the Congress fought the election as bitter rivals and their rivalry, which runs deep at the grassroots, has a clear caste dimension. A stable government is necessary to ensure that these fault lines are not stoked further”.

Compulsions of office and the prospect of a resurgent BJP ahead of the general election next year may persuade the two parties to bury their differences and focus on governance. They must do so, irrespective of the political gains or losses in running a coalition government of parties that compete for a common social base”.

Here are a few highlighted:

Government formation and keeping both parties happy.

The task of running a state with an alliance after a contentious election will keep the Chief Minister’s hands full for the short term; and it has to be short term and not something that he has to deal with for weeks or months on end. In allocating portfolios, it’s a balancing act. He needs to keep people who are influential happy and in the right place and ensure that the cabinet reflects all communities.

This challenge is an opportunity for both the chief minister and the opposition. The chief minister can ensure that a strong alliance, though guidance from the Congress top brass, not only forms the government but thrives. Keeping everyone happy will not be easy and Kumaraswamy will need to see to it that fractures don’t appear and any existing ones should be dealt with at the outset. The BJP is betting on these fractures and differences to be the undoing of the Congress – JD(S) alliance in the state as stated by Amit Shah who predicts that the government won’t function in harmony.

Cauvery water issue

The Cauvery water issue has been in the news for months now, as it seems the centre has dragged its feet on this. On May 18, the Supreme Court approved the Cauvery management scheme that was presented by the central government. The court directed the centre to notify the scheme before the onset of impending monsoon.

Earlier this month, prior to the Supreme Court order, the Karnataka government ruled out the release of more water to Tamil Nadu. It stated that it had released more water than it was supposed to. The state is coming off successive droughts and according to the government is itself facing a water crisis. The new Chief Minister, prior to being sworn in was of the same opinion and stated that Karnataka cannot release water to Tamil Nadu.

Plight of farmers in the state

In a state that has witnessed farmer suicides and severe droughts; the incoming government has to tackle the financial situation of farmers. Farmers from various regions in the state have set out an agenda for the new government to look into the welfare of the agricultural workers and the farming community. The Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha (KRRS), a farmer’s movement organization wants the incoming Chief Minister to keep his promise of a loan waiver.

In response, Kumaraswamy stated that there was no need for any external pressure with the issue of farmers, saying in part, “I am one step ahead of you to work for the farmers. You need not have to ask me for my resignation over farm loan waiver. If I fail to do that then I myself will resign from the post. Farm loan waiver is my priority”. The BJP called for a statewide bandh on Monday demanding immediate waiver of farm loans, as promised by the JD(S) in their manifesto.

Kumaraswamy held a meeting with officials after winning the trust vote, but no concrete plan has been announced yet. The previous government under former Chief Minister Siddaramaiah had announced crop-loan waiver of up to Rs.50,000 per farmer. The view of the KRRS is that a loan waiver was not the only solution and there should be a plan to ensure short-term finance without interest.

However, any decision made by the Chief Minister will likely have to take into account the opinions of the Congress.

Lingayat minority status

Shortly before the assembly elections took place, the Congress government under Siddaramaiah proposed that the Lingayat community be given the tag of a minority religion along with a separate flag. This was seen as a political calculation to tap into the voting share that could harm the BJP. The centre has now asked for a fresh proposal as there is a new government in place.

The Lingayat community are considered supporters of the BJP and former chief minister B S Yeddyurappa. The Home ministry at the time opposed the demand on Lingayats but no final decision was taken. This is another point of friction that the BJP hopes will contribute towards the destabilization of the alliance in the state as observed by Prithvi Datta Chandra Shobhi, a Mysuru-based social historian and political commentator, in a column for The Print –

Congress gambit may not have been a success in 2018 but it held on to it and perhaps even increased its Veerashaiva -Lingayat vote share. Being in the Congress is not a handicap for a Lingayat politician”.

BJP leaders are confident that the Kumaraswamy government will not last more than three months. They point out the inherent contradictions in this alliance and expect those MLAs not getting ministerial berths, particularly the Lingayat MLAs, to be willing to join the BJP”.

With portfolios still being decided on, HD Kumaraswamy has a tough balancing act ahead of him.

Some issues that the JD(S) promised in their portfolio prior to the elections will now need to be met. An alliance with the Congress may complicate things in terms of implementing and deciding on which issues to tackle. However, it needn’t be complicated, if the government simply governs on an anti-BJP platform, however short sighted and uninspiring that may be. It could disprove Amit Shah’s prediction of an early downfall of the government and help the Congress for 2019.

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