NEW DELHI: The chief minister of India's southern Karnataka state quit yesterday after just two days in office, rather than face a confidence vote his minority Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was unlikely to win. The move could allow the main opposition Congress party, which ruled the state for the past five years, and a regional party to form the government. They have 117 seats in the 225-seat state legislature.
The alliance could galvanize opponents of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi ahead of a general election that must be held by May next year. Some analysts, however, said the Karnataka developments were unlikely to hurt the prospects of Modi's BJP next year, but investors will be closely watching elections in three other major states this year. "The impact of the Karnataka political outcome will be short-lived," said VK Vijayakumar, chief investment strategist at Geojit Financial Services. "From now on, till elections to Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chattisgarh later this year, economics will dictate the direction of the market (rather) than politics."
Newly elected Karnataka lawmakers had been due to hold a "trust" or confidence vote in the assembly on the orders of the Supreme Court, which intervened after the opposition had protested the state governor's decision to invite the BJP to form a state administration. Karnataka BJP leader B S Yeddyurappa, who had been sworn in as the chief minister on Thursday, said he would resign rather than try to prove that he had the support of a majority of the legislators.
The BJP, which rules 21 of India's 29 states, emerged as the single largest party in Karnataka, but its 104 seats left it short of a majority. Karnataka, home to India's technology hub of Bengaluru, is the only southern state where the BJP has held power. In an emotional speech carried live by most Indian TV news channels, Yeddyurappa said his party would now work towards increasing the number of parliamentary seats for the BJP in the state to help Modi's re-election bid. Congress chief Rahul Gandhi hailed Yeddyurappa's decision as a victory. "I am proud that they have been shown that in India power, corruption and money is not everything but the will of people is everything," he said in a rare news conference.
Blow to BJP
"The mandate was not for Congress and Janata Dal. They lost the election but they indulged in opportunist politics," Yeddyurappa told the assembly. "I have faced the test of fire all my life. I will lose nothing if I lose power. I am going straight to the governor's house to give my resignation," the 75-year-old said. Opposition lawmakers cheered and flashed V for victory signs as Yeddyurappa left the assembly followed by his supporters.
The buildup to the resignation saw accusations of bribery and poaching made against the BJP after the state governor asked Yeddyurappa to try to form an administration even though he did not have a majority. Congress went to the Supreme Court to try to prevent the BJP from forming a government in the prosperous state, home to the IT hub of Bangalore. The court ruled Thursday that Yeddyurappa should be allowed to take an oath of office. But a day later it said Yeddyurappa must pass a vote of confidence to prove his majority yesterday. India's top court met a third time yesterday to reject a move by Congress to stop Yeddyurappa appointing a speaker of his choice.
Congress and its ally accused the BJP of offering up to $15 million to their members to switch sides in the vote. Modi's party strongly denied the allegation. Congress and Janata Dal even moved their lawmakers to luxury hotels outside the state to make sure they were not tempted to switch sides ahead of the vote. Reports said their mobile phones had been confiscated so they could not be contacted by rivals.
Gandhi repeated the corruption charges yesterday and accused Modi of personally approving the offering of bribes. "You've seen openly how the PM directly authorized purchasing of (lawmakers) in Karnataka, so the idea that PM spreads in the country that he is fighting corruption is a blatant lie," Gandhi said. Congress has been desperate to cling on to Karnataka, its last major bastion. It has lost 12 state elections since the BJP took national power in 2014. - Agencies