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In Historic Tussle For Council Chair, JD (S) Pips Congress in Karnataka

The Janata Dal (Secular) has proved it still had king-maker powers in Karnataka in a unique tussle for power between the Congress and the BJP in the state legislature.

Deepa Balakrishnan | CNN-News18deepab18

Updated:June 15, 2017, 9:15 PM IST
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In Historic Tussle For Council Chair, JD (S) Pips Congress in Karnataka
(L to R) Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, Union Law Minister Sadananda Gowda, Opposition Leader in State Assembly Jagadish Shettar and JD(S) State President H D Kumaraswamy. Representative image. Photo: Reuters
Bengaluru: The Janata Dal (Secular) has proved it still had king-maker powers in Karnataka in a unique tussle for power between the Congress and the BJP in the state legislature.

The occasion was a first-of-its-kind no-confidence motion against Legislative Council Chairperson D H Shankaramurthy.

The Chairman, a BJP MLC, has been in that post for nearly seven years, and it was the first time that such a no-trust vote was moved against a sitting chair.

The ruling Congress, which had recently added numbers in the Council, thought it had enough strength to win the motion and install their own person as chairperson – that would make proceedings in the Council far easier for the government.

It would give them some amount of muscle in deciding priorities in discussions, it would also give them more influence next year even if the Congress doesn’t win a majority in the Assembly elections in 2018.

But the move, by Congress MLC V S Ugrappa and nine others, was ill-timed, hastily planned and executed which in the end proved a major embarrassment for the party. Notice was given 14 days before to move the no-trust vote, as mandated, but charges against the Chairman had not been expressed.

This allowed the JDS to back the BJP at the last minute and save Shankaramurthy. The JD (S) decided to vote for Shankaramurthy to continue as Chairman, and the trust vote was defeated 37-36 – All the Congress had needed was one vote in its favour, which it didn’t get.

“The Chairman has shown bias, gives opportunity to his partymen to speak more, rather than the treasury benches. He also has violated protocol and put up photos of people affiliated with his party in his chamber,” Ugrappa told the House. But these allegations found the support of his own partymen.

While the defeat of the vote was embarrassing for the Congress as it’s the ruling party, it also brought into focus the role of the JD (S).

JD (S), with just 13 members in the 75-member Council, tilted the balance in favour of the BJP. A JD (S) MLC is the deputy chairperson in the Council – and he conducted the discussion. A simple, unanimous 'no' to the no-trust vote showed the rest of the parties who is boss.

JD (S) leader Basavaraj Horatti told mediapersons later that the party decided to go with the BJP purely because the Congress was too late in asking for its support. “BJP had asked us long back. Congress spoke to our party high command just this morning, when the vote is to take place in a couple of hours. We don’t know how they assumed we would support (them),” Horatti said.

The JD (S), however, is a past-master in swinging its support. In 2004, the party had supported the Congress to form a government in Karnataka when the election resulted in a hung Assembly. The government didn’t last long, and JD (S) chief H D Kumaraswamy pulled the plug to ally with the BJP and crown himself chief minister with the BJP’s support in 2006. This government, too, did not last a full term, the JD (S) pulling the plug yet again in 2007. Both times, the JD (S) had the least strength in the Assembly.

With Karnataka set for a keen battle for the Assembly next year, the JD (S)’s prowess is likely to put it back in the reckoning in case there is a hung Assembly yet again. Both national parties, the Congress and the BJP, would be worried about being at the mercy of ‘external support’ yet again.
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