The Congress may have not worked out its pre-poll alliances in the rest of the country. But its arrangement with the Janata Dal Secular in Karnataka, like with the DMK in Tamil Nadu, is an expression of the inevitability in politics.
The Congress may have come in for criticism for its ham-handed manner of attempting pre-poll alliances with non-BJP parties in many parts of India. But, like its tie-up with the DMK (Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) and its allies in Tamil Nadu, the Karnataka alliance with the Janata Dal Secular (JDS) is on a different footing altogether.
The two parties, which run the coalition government in Karnataka, have now adopted a strategy that is sending out the message of inevitability of their alliance to not only the people but, more importantly, to their grassroot level workers who are at loggerheads. The communication is that there is no choice but to forget the bitter battles fought against each other in the past because now the enemy number one is the BJP.
It is not as if this point was not made on 15 May when the Congress sprang a surprise and openly offered the chief ministership of the coalition to HD Kumaraswamy when it could not muster a simple majority on its own.
The intention of the Congress was to stop the BJP campaign of “Congress-mukt Bharat” and, to a large extent, it succeeded.
But the latest stand is an indication of the desperation with which the two parties are viewing their individual prospects in the Lok Sabha elections. The nominations for the first phase, covering 50% of the 28 constituencies, opened on Tuesday.
The leaders, including former Prime Minister HD Deve Gowda, Kumaraswamy and the Congress leader and former chief minister Siddaramaiah, have worn their fire extinguishing fatigues to quell a clear rebellion in, at least, two of the constituencies which are already in the kitty of the JDS as per the seat-sharing agreement between the two parties.
The Congress is to contest 20 seats and the JDS the remaining eight. And, the latter’s seats are largely in southern Karnataka where the dominant caste group of Vokkaligas, to which Deve Gowda and family belong, also forms its social base.
The first of the critical constituencies is the Cauvery basin district of Mandya where the JDS has announced the actor-son of Kumaraswamy, Nikhil Gowda, as its candidate. Nikhil is the second grandson of Deve Gowda to enter electoral politics after Prajwal Revanna, son of the PWD minister HD Revanna, who is being fielded as the candidate from Hassan. This is the constituency which has elected Deve Gowda five times to the Lok Sabha in the past.
Nikhil’s biggest problem has been that the wife of the late Kannada film icon and former minister MH Ambareesh, Sumalatha, has announced her decision to contest as an Independent candidate. She has been backed by many Congress workers who are unhappy about their party joining hands with a rival against whom they have all fought many a bitter battle over the last four decades.
Sumalatha has even found support in SM Krishna, the former external affairs minister in the Congress-led UPA government, who is now in the BJP. The BJP, however, is yet to take a call on whether to field its own candidate and help Sumalatha or to directly back her. The element of nervousness in the JDS camp is evident because despite the fact that seven of the eight assembly constituencies are held by the JDS in Mandya, Nikhil is seen as an “import” from Hassan, the home district of the Gowda family.
The other trouble spot is Tumakuru, the only constituency where the sitting MP SP Muddehanume Gowda, hails from the Congress yet the seat has been allotted to the JDS as per the seat-sharing agreement. The denial of the seat to the Congress sitting member has not just upset the party workers but also Congress leader and deputy chief minister in the coalition government, Dr G Parameshwara.
Congress workers in Karwar, the constituency of the BJP motormouth and union minister of state for skill development, Ananth Kumar Hegde, are upset because the JDS has been allotted this seat. And, similar is the reaction of Congress party workers in the Udupi-Chikmagaluru constituency, a seat which paved the way for the return of Indira Gandhi to the Lok Sabha in 1978.
So, when Deve Gowda told a news conference on Tuesday as to “why is it hard to believe that Siddaramaiah and I are together? We will go around the state and sort out all issues,” it was clear that the leaders had realised the inevitability of the two going together.
Deve Gowda went to the extent of saying that the leaders of the two parties will be campaigning together. And this included a joint rally to be addressed by Rahul Gandhi and Deve Gowda on 31 March.
“Siddaramaiah and I will be campaigning together,” he said, raising the eyebrows of those who had seen the two fight a bitter battle 15 years ago. Siddaramaiah had aligned with Deve Gowda in 1984 against the first Janata party chief minister Ramakrishna Hegde. But he broke away from Deve Gowda, almost 19 years later, after accusing him of promoting only his sons in politics and denying him an opportunity to become the chief minister.
Anything could happen in politics could be a cliché but the fact remains that if a Vaiko of the MDMK can hug a Rahul Gandhi at the Nagercoil rally in Tamil Nadu, a friend turned foe becoming a friend again in Karnataka should not come as a surprise.
After all, as both Deve Gowda and Siddaramaiah pointed out that the results of the by-elections to the three Lok Sabha seats and two assembly seats in November 2018 carried a lot of meaning.
The coalition partners won the Ballari and Mandya Lok Sabha seats and the Ramanagara and Jamkhandi assembly seats. Even in the Shivamogga Lok Sabha seat, the margin of the BJP’s victory fell from three lakh plus votes to a 50,000 margin. And, Shivamogga is no insignificant constituency. It was held by BS Yeddyurappa, the BJP strongman.