Fragile Coalition In Karnataka Could Spell Trouble For Government
Politicians in Karnataka are bracing themselves for any eventuality post the announcement of results of the Lok Sabha elections on May 23.
No other state in the country, perhaps, is feeling the tension of a possible change in government than this southern state, maybe with the exception of Tamil Nadu.
The public spat between the leader of the Congress legislature party and former chief minister Siddaramaiah and the state president of the Janata Dal Secular (JDS) AH Vishwanath is largely a reflection of the muscles flexing before a right royal fight once the votes are counted at the end of the five week election schedule.
Leaders of all parties, whether Congress, JDS or BJP, have fought one of the toughest elections in recent years. They have lashed out at each other, often with comments intended to hit hard below the belt. But, in Karnataka, coordination between the leaders of the coalition parties remained, largely, tenuous.
In constituencies like Mandya and Mysuru, the grassroot level workers simply decided to move away to work either for an Independent candidate like Sumalatha Ambareesh in Mandya or for the BJP in Mysuru. Both the seats are critical for cordiality between the coalition partners for two important reasons.
In Mandya, the JDS in its wisdom decided to paradrop Nikhil Kumaraswamy, the actor-son of chief minister HD Kumaraswamy, from Hassan.
And getting the Mysuru seat for his candidate, CH Vijayshankar, became a matter of prestige for former chief minister Siddaramaiah. It is in this context that the statement of JDS minister GT Deve Gowda caused ripples in political circles.
GT as GT Deve Gowda is called (to differentiate with the former Prime Minister HD Deve Gowda) publicly admitted that JDS workers had not worked for the alliance candidate (of the Congress) but instead had done so for the BJP.
Congress party leaders, privately, admit that this was not confined to just one area.
“We will scrape through I think in Mysuru but we have decided to place it in the 50-50 chances list of constituencies. The JDS should be able to get a minimum of two and a maximum of three. It will definitely win the Hassan seat (where Prajwal Revanna, another grandson of HD Deve Gowda is the candidate) and, of course, Tumakuru seat (where HD Deve Gowda is the candidate),” a senior Congress leader said on condition of anonymity.
It basically means that the Congress has put the Mandya constituency in which chief minister Kumaraswamy personally focussed upon in the last three-four days of the campaign, in the category of “50:50 chances” list. That means the two most important of constituencies – Mandya and Mysuru - may not be won by the alliance partners.
It also means that the strain in the relationship is bound to show up in various ways after May 23. More so, because the prestige of Siddaramaiah, on one side, and HD Kumaraswamy, on the other, is involved. And, they are the top leaders of the coalition government in the state.
In fact, the first indication of the attack on Siddaramaiah has come from no less than the state president of the JDS, AH Vishwanath. In the wake of the demand from Congress leaders to maintain the coalition dharma and withdraw his controversial statement, Vishwanath repeated his statement to The Lede.
“Siddaramaiah is the chairman of the Coordination Committee of the coalition. He has to coordinate not only politically but also be the link for the government. As chairman of the coordination committee, he should have drawn up the Common Minimum Programme (CMP) and shown the path to the government. He has held so many posts and he is also the former chief minister,” Vishwanath said.
Vishwanath went a step further to state that Siddaramaiah should “please cooperate and help the government function smoothly. He should advise Kumaraswamy.”
The timing of Vishwanath’s statement was critical because supporters of Siddaramaiah had already re-started the “Siddaramaiah is our chief minister” campaign.
The campaign is seen by the JDS as an attempt to lower the prestige of chief minister Kumaraswamy who had been assured by the Congress high command in May 2018 that he will remain in that post for the full five-year term of office.
On his part, Siddaramaiah has reiterated his favourite line. “I have made it clear that there is no vacancy so how can I become chief minister? If people bless us in 2023 then my supporters believe I should be chief minister. What is wrong in that? But remember that I stand by my resolve not to contest any more elections. And if somebody reiterates the same demand, can I shut their mouth?”
JDS leaders privately believe that it is a conspiracy of the Siddaramaiah camp to destabilise the government and prove to the Congress high command that the alliance is not working out. And that it would be better to go it alone.
This plan would be a time-consuming process. But there is another danger that the coalition faces from the results of the two by-elections to the Karnataka legislative assembly from Kundgol and Chincholi constituencies.
If the Congress wins both seats, one of which was held by the BJP and another by the Congress, in North Karnataka, it can feel comfortable. But if it loses both of them, the BJP tally in the assembly would go up from 104 to 106.
Add to this, one independent candidate and, at least, three fence-sitters with one leg hanging towards the BJP side, and the BJP will be in a position to dislodge this secular coalition government.
However, what will give momentum to the BJP’s efforts will depend upon who comes to power at Delhi. If it is the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), BJP leader BS Yeddyurappa’s perpetually grim expression would change to a smile.
Of course, this again, depends upon his party winning more than 50% of the 28 Lok Sabha seats. Only then will he be able to prove to BJP president Amit Shah and Prime Minister Narendra Modi that his Lingayat community vote is still under his control and he deserves to be rewarded even though he fulfils the criteria to join the Margadarshak Mandal like LK Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi.