KARNATAKA: REALITY BITES
With a clear result looking more and more unlikely, all parties are keeping ‘back channels’ open
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
REVANNA CLARIFIED THERE WAS “NO DISSENT”, EVERYONE WOULD “ABIDE BY FATHER’S (GOWDA’S) DECISION”
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