snapshots

India: For Modi, a State Government’s Collapse Creates an Opportune Opening

3 MINS READJul 24, 2019 | 21:35 GMT
The Big Picture

With large populations, distinct languages and unique cultures, Indian states can resemble countries in their own right and thus serve as key political battlegrounds. Coming off of its landslide victory in May, the reelected Bharatiya Janata Party is hoping to return to power in Karnataka following the collapse of the southern state's coalition government.

What Happened

After 18 days of turmoil, the southern Indian state of Karnataka's embattled coalition government has finally collapsed — providing a potential opening for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to broaden its reach into the southern Indian peninsula. On July 23, the Indian National Congress and its regional coalition partner, the Janata Dal (Secular), narrowly lost a vote of confidence in the state legislature.

By July 6, 15 disgruntled state legislators had defected from the 14-month-old coalition. This triggered a high-profile political crisis in Karnataka, with India's Supreme Court weighing in on the matter, before ultimately culminating in the vote of confidence. Karnataka Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy has since submitted his resignation to the state governor, Vajubhai Vala.

Why It Matters

The loss of the defected legislators has brought the combined number of seats shared between the Indian National Congress and Janata Dal (Secular) below the amount required for a majority in Karnataka's state assembly. The BJP, meanwhile, currently holds the most seats of any single party, thus placing it in the strongest position to secure a majority and form the state's next government.

The collapse of Karnataka's government provides an opening for Modi’s party to broaden its reach into the southern Indian peninsula.

This comes as Modi's party seeks to broaden its support base from its strongholds in northern and western India into the five states of south India, which include Karnataka, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. These states are dominated by a bastion of regional parties asserting power at the state level in India’s federalist system, though Karnataka is the only one where the BJP has previously held power. State legislatures also elect representatives for India's upper house, the Rajya Sabha, where the BJP hopes to escape its minority status by drawing more states into its fold.

Background

Home to 64 million people, Karnataka boasts a larger population than Italy. The state's capital, Bengaluru, is also a major tech hub that hosts offices from several multinational companies including Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Dell. Following Karnataka's state elections in May 2018, the Indian National Congress and Janata Dal (Secular) cobbled together a coalition to stave off the BJP, which won a plurality of votes. But infighting between members of the alliance continued to persist over the past year, spurring the defections that ultimately led to its demise. The collapse of the coalition marks another setback for the Indian National Congress following its painful defeat in the general elections, which not only saw a second term for Modi but handed his party an even bigger majority.

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