With a clear re­sult look­ing more and more un­likely, all par­ties are keep­ing ‘back chan­nels’ open

India Today - - STATES - By Aravind Gowda

The last 10 days be­fore polling day wit­nessed dra­matic flipflops by all po­lit­i­cal par­ties in the Karnataka assem­bly elec­tions: Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi took to prais­ing for­mer PM H.D. Deve Gowda even as he ex­horted crowds not to vote for the Janata Dal (Sec­u­lar). Gowda’s son and for­mer chief min­is­ter H.D. Ku­maraswamy, who had con­sis­tently claimed that the JD(S) would emerge as the sin­gle largest party, changed tack and started talk­ing of pos­si­ble post-poll al­liances. While all this was hap­pen­ing, the rul­ing Congress led by chief min­is­ter Sid­dara­ma­iah, qui­etly started backchan­nel ne­go­ti­a­tions with the JD(S).

If the opin­ion polls are a pointer, Karnataka’s vot­ers sim­ply can’t agree on a sin­gle party this time like they did while elect­ing Sid­dara­ma­iah and his flock in 2013. Party in­sid­ers say both the BJP and Congress are re­signed to the “re­al­ity” that the polls will throw up a frac­tured ver­dict. Pub­licly, of course, both par­ties con­tinue to claim that May 12 will be an “easy vic­tory”.

Even the most zeal­ous of Congress’s spin doc­tors now pri­vately ad­mit that the party could fall short of the ‘mag­i­cal’ num­ber of 113 seats (which they blame on the poor se­lec­tion of can­di­dates). Sim­i­larly, while party chief Amit Shah is con­fi­dently talk­ing of form­ing the gov­ern­ment, state BJP lead­ers are nowhere as cer­tain.

Buoyed by the pub­lic re­sponse to his dra­matic speeches in the state, PM Modi’s poll man­agers ramped up his sched­uled elec­tion ral­lies in Karnataka from 15 to 21. But an­a­lysts say the “die is cast” and this won’t fetch the BJP any ad­di­tional votes.

Po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst A. Veer­appa agrees that though sev­eral opin­ion sur­veys give the BJP an edge over the Congress, “the fact re­mains that nei­ther party will be in a po­si­tion to form the gov­ern­ment with­out the sup­port of the JD(S)”. He pre­dicts “in­ter­est­ing times” ahead while the JD(S) ex­acts its pound of po­lit­i­cal flesh.

On May 6 in Chikka­m­a­galuru, Ku­maraswamy ac­knowl­edged the prospect of a frac­tured ver­dict for the first time say­ing, “If a coali­tion gov­ern­ment be­comes in­evitable, we will join hands with a party that im­ple­ments our pro­grammes.” Clearly sniff­ing blood, the JD(S) chief, buoyed by sur­veys sug­gest­ing his party could get 40-50 seats, con­fi­dently de­clared that “no one can form gov­ern­ment with­out us”. Tact­fully, his fa­ther Gowda Sr still in­vokes “bit­ter past ex­pe­ri­ences” as a ra­tio­nale equidis­tance from both the BJP and the Congress.

My­suru Univer­sity scholar


N.L. Prakash be­lieves that in its des­per­a­tion to re­tain the only big state it rules (be­sides Pun­jab), the Congress could do a deal with the Gow­das even keep­ing Sid­dara­ma­iah out of the loop. In the end, he says, the party will pre­vail over the chief min­is­ter­ship. Gowda is re­port­edly up­set with the chief min­is­ter, be­liev­ing that Sid­dara­ma­iah in­spired the ‘per­sonal’ barbs made by Rahul Gandhi at his poll ral­lies in Karnataka. But Congress party in­sid­ers in­sist that “Gowda’s ex­cel­lent re­la­tion­ship with vet­eran (Congress) par­ty­man Mal­likar­juna Kharge” will smoothen any dif­fer­ences if the need arises.

In­ter­est­ingly, though a se­nior Sid­dara­ma­iah gov­ern­ment min­is­ter says the Congress has opened backchan­nel talks, there’s as yet been no par­tic­u­lar re­sponse from Gowda or the JD(S) camp.

Mean­while, new names are crop­ping up for the chief min­is­ter’s post, in the event that a Con­gressJD(S) post-poll al­liance be­comes in­evitable. It’s be­ing said that Gowda may pre­fer a Lin­gayat for the CM’s post, to de­mol­ish the myth that he is against Karnataka’s largest com­mu­nity (af­ter Ku­maraswamy re­fused to hand over power to Lin­gayat strong­man B.S. Yed­dyu­rappa in 2007). In such an even­tu­al­ity, the JD(S) wants Gowda’s other son H.D. Re­vanna as the deputy chief min­is­ter.

With Ku­maraswamy lean­ing heav­ily to­wards the BJP given his now cor­dial re­la­tions with B.S. Yed­dyu­rappa, an­a­lysts say a rift may emerge in the Gowda clan. As the ru­mour mills gained trac­tion, Re­vanna clar­i­fied on May 6 that there was “no dis­sent in the fam­ily” and that every­one would “abide by fa­ther’s (Gowda’s) de­ci­sion”. A close aide of Ku­maraswamy, though, says the son could well rebel. “All op­tions are now open,” he said, ev­i­dently thrilled at the way things are pan­ning out.



MAKE WAY FOR... Rahul Gandhi (left) and PM Modi at cam­paign ral­lies in Ben­galuru

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