On May 23, when the nation waits with bated breath for the Lok Sabha poll results to unfold on TV screens, Karnataka will be bracing for a ‘double impact’—of not only the national elections but its fallout on state politics. Will the fragile JD(S)-Congress coalition which is just one year old, be able to weather the turmoil which the results could throw up? Will the coalition partner Congress pull the rug from under the H.D. Kumaraswamy government and force elections if it can come up with a relatively good performance in the parliament polls-maybe winning 13 of the 28 seats? Or does HDK as he is popularly known, have something up his sleeve which he will reveal only when the circumstances leave him with no easy choice? Shyam Sundar Vattam examines the various options before the three major political forces in the aftermath of the poll results and whether Karnataka can get rid of the political uncertainty which has shackled the state’s initiatives on every front since May, 2018 when the Assembly results threw up a fractured verdict.
‘Dosti-Dangal’—what could more aptly describe the troubled ties between the Congress and JD(S) in the past one year after H.D. Kumaraswamy took over as CM, despite his party the JD(S) being the junior partner in the coalition? The who’s who of the national opposition were all there in Bengaluru to watch a unique gathbandan come into existence hoping that it would be the ideal model for a national front to take on the Modi-Shah juggernaut before they seized power at the Centre again.
But to put it frankly, at the end of a year, there are not many in the state who are optimistic enough to presume that this government will survive for the next four years. The situation has nosedived in the past 2-3 months after the initial euphoria wore off with a section of Congressmen, disgusted with the constant wrangling with the JD(S), mooting the idea of a snap poll to seek a fresh mandate and maybe come up with a larger chunk of MLAs.
Leaders of the JD(S) on the other hand, wonder if they are better off now than after the Assembly polls and still remember the rude shock the Congress gave the United Front government headed by H.D. Deve Gowda in the 1990s by withdrawing support.
Rough ride for coalition
So what went wrong? The coalition government took off on a brisk note but began losing sheen due to the lack of understanding between the two partners. Having been traditional rivals in the Old Mysore region for decades, it was no easy task for local leaders to reconcile with each other even if the seniors could patch up. Develop ment took a back seat with allegations and counter-allegations becoming the order of the day.
Kumaraswamy himself succinctly summed up his plight a few days after assuming office claiming he was the 'vishakanta' who had swallowed venom to ensure the nectar for others. The coalition did get down to the task of administration after smoothening over the rough edges but the barbs continued widening the gap between the two parties.
Congress legislators who felt that had given up too much by sacrificing the CM post for the junior coalition partner, went to the extent of asking Mr Kumaraswamy to step down if he was unable to do the balancing act. Some objected to the CM’s unilateral decisions especially with regard to transfer of officials, release of funds and clearance of pending projects, others felt projects in their constituencies were taking a hit with the CM not available for a much needed discussion.
As time passed and the disenchantment grew, a few Congress legislators, owing allegiance to former CM Siddaramaiah, now the coalition’s all powerful co-ordination committee chairman, under the banner of 'like-minded' MLAs, started holding meetings to complain regarding non-clearance of projects pertaining to their constituencies. One of their favourite targets was Kumaraswamy’s brother and PWD Minister H.D. Revanna who they complained, was interfering in all departments.
And soon came the demand many had anticipated, would be made sooner than later—Siddaramaiah should be brought back as CM. An embarrassed Kumaraswamy sulked and fumed and asked Congmen like KPCC President Dinesh Gundurao and Deputy Chief Minister Dr G Parameshwar to silence the 'Siddu again' campaign but in vain. None of the legislators took the warning seriously and continued with their campaign which is slowly gaining momentum across the state and could reach a flashpoint soon after the poll results. Even repeated statements by both Congress and JD(S) leaders that the CM’s chair is not vacant for the next four years, has no takers now. Siddaramaiah on his part, has adopted a guarded approach with sources saying he is happy with the growing clamour among the MLAs to make him CM—the post he missed after the Congress tally fell from 100 plus seats to a paltry 70 in the polls last year.
LS poll exposes chinks
The campaign for the Lok Sabha polls during which well-wishers of the coalition had expected a united campaign by the Congress and JD(S), to win the majority of seats, again exposed cracks which are becoming difficult to bridge. Poll managers of the BJP were no doubt alarmed when the coalition decided to put up a single candidate in each Lok Sabha constituency but their worries soon disappeared with the infighting making leaders of the Congress and JD(S) wonder if it would have been better fighting the LS polls alone!
The choice of candidates for several LS constituencies itself became an irritant. The JD(S) decision to field Prajwal Revanna, a political novice and son of PWD Minister H.D Revanna from Hassan, Nikhil Kumaraswamy, son of Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy from Mandya and former PM H.D. Deve Gowda from Tumakuru, led to howls of protest from Congress leaders and cries of favouritism. Hassan Congress strongman A. Manju quit the party to join the BJP and took on Prajwal, with the silent support of a good number of Congressmen in the constituency.
The facade of unity also crumbled in Mandya, the hotbed of Vokkaliga politics where former Congress legislators who were defeated by JD(S) men in the last Assembly polls, skipped the campaign for the CM’s son to show their anger against the fielding of a debutant without consulting them. Most of them have secretly backed Independent candidate Sumalatha Ambareesh who had the backing of the BJP, caring two hoots for the coalition dharma leaving JD(S) leaders wondering if they had done the right thing by firming up a poll alliance with the Congress- a pact with no benefits.
No different was the situation in Tumakuru where former Madhugiri Congress MLA K.N. Rajanna and sitting Tumakuru Congress MP Muddahanumegowda openly opposed JD(S) supre mo Deve Gowda’s candidature from Tumakuru. With the popular Muddahanumegowda denied the coalition ticket, the disappointed rank and file of the Congress may have voted for the BJP rather than backing their avowed enemy, the JD(S).
In fact the blame game could worsen taking the coalition to the brink if Prajwal and Nikhil, grandsons of Mr Deve Gowda, fail to make it in Hassan and Mandya, proving what the JD(S) had always feared—that Congress loyalists have not backed their candidates.
Pushing for polls?
Maybe realising that a fresh start is better than the troubled ride the coalition has had so far, many in the Congress are pushing for mid-term polls-a sentiment which could gain momentum if the Congress secures 13 plus LS seats of the total 28 in Karnataka. The party morale is no doubt high after forming the state governments in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan by dislodging the BJP. People have also responded enthusiastically at their rallies during the LS polls which makes Congressmen feel that it is a golden opportunity to sever ties with the JD(S) and go for fresh polls under the leadership of Siddaramaiah.
Political pundits agree that there could be cataclysmic changes in Karnataka if the BJP led NDA fails to return to power at the Centre. This would be a major setback for the saffron party which is reportedly waiting to poach on ruling party legislators and form the government if the NDA wins. In fact quite a few Congress MLAs are said to be in touch with the BJP and are willing to resign from the Assembly and back B.S. Yeddyurappa as CM.
The perfect foil for their plan would be the withdrawal of support to the Kumaraswamy government by the Congress and fresh polls, which is why the party is seriously considering this option. Even the BJP may not be averse to the idea of state polls after having burnt their fingers by tying up with the JD(S) in 2006 and later being deprived of a stint in power by Deve Gowda’s party.
But what if the Congress does not win big in the state in the Lok Sabha polls? Al that Congressmen can do in such circumstances is continue with their campaign of 'Siddu for CM' to keep the pressure on Mr Kumaraswamy. They could also adopt other tactics—insist on the holding of the coordination committee meeting before every Cabinet meeting to air their grievances; ensure no transfer of IAS/IPS officers happens without the knowledge of the respective legislators and also demand equal distribution of grants to all constituencies.
Congressmen may also up the ante for regular meetings of the CM with MLAs to address their problems and insist that there should be no interference by JD(S) ministers in portfolios held by the Congress.But all these are in the realm of conjecture for the poll results could play havoc with carefully drawn up political plans and an upheaval is in the making whether it is the BJP led NDA or the opposition which comes to power at the Centre.
With the results now just 10 days away, Karnataka will no doubt be looking to better times and not a ‘government on crutches’ which tends to get blown away every time the rebels whose numbers seem to be increasing with each passing day, blow hot and cold.