Karnataka Heading for Uncertain Political Days Ahead

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JD(S)-Cong alliance is opportunistic and may head for uncertain days and unchartered waters.

The verdict for the Karnataka Assembly has turned out to be like a cliffhanger T-20 cricket match heading down to the wire. But unlike in T-20s where the umpire can refer a rather difficult case to the third umpire, Governor Vajabhai Rudabhai Vala has no such option; unless of course one considers Amit Shah or the BJP high command to be the `hidden third umpire.’

After a bitter political battle for 222 seats in the Karnataka Assembly (one was countermanded due to the death of a candidate and the other postponed due to some irregularities) foes turned pals overnight and once again it was proved that politics makes strange bedfellows. This saying was adapted from a line in the play The Tempest by William Shakespeare : “Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows.” In Karnataka, the misery of both the Congress and the JD(S) seems to be an overbearing BJP.

Both the BJP with and the Congress-JD(S) combine today met the Governor and staked claim to form the next government. The final result is likely to read as BJP 104, Congress 78, JD(S) 38 and others 2. Both the independents have decided to sail with the Congress. Thus, the post-poll alliance of the JD(S) combine will have 118 MLAs. In fact, the two parties today took 118 MLA-elect to the Raj Bhavan to prove the point.

The Congress and the JD(S) put up a show of unity when chief minister Siddaramaiah and his bitter one-time enemy H D Kumaraswamy met the Governor and staked claim.

As per norms established by the Supreme Court in the S R Bommai judgment, the Governor cannot decide on who has the majority. That has to be decided on the floor of the House. But the Governor has to invite the largest single party to form the government, in this case the BJP. If the BJP fails to secure a majority on the floor of the House, the Governor can invite the next single party or a coalition to prove its majority on the floor of the House.

The BJP has sought seven days time to prove its majority which the Governor can officially grant. This time will be `productively’ used to crack the JD(S) and the Congress. The BJP is sharpening its plan. There are reports that seven Congress MLAs, mostly Lingayats, and five JD(S) MLAs, are unhappy with the new alliance. The Lingayats have overwhelmingly voted for the BJP and the last thing they would like to see is a Vokaliga chief minister in Kumaraswamy. The Lingayats view Vokaligas as betrayers. Yeddyurappa is a tall Lingayat leader and the JD(S) had earlier betrayed him by rescinding a power sharing formula way back in 2007.

According to a power-sharing agreement between the BJP and the JD(S) in 2006, Kumaraswamy was to head the coalition government for the first 20 months followed by Yeddyurappa for the same period. However, at the last moment Kumaraswamy refused to relinquish his post. Yeddyurappa and his party then withdrew support to the government in 2007, leading to its collapse and subsequently President’s rule was imposed in the state.

The Lingayats now see another betrayal in the making by the JD(S). The BJP has tapped the Lingayat MLAs in the Congress and disgruntled elements in the JD(S) prodding them to abstain from voting if the JD(S)-Congress combine indeed comes to power. Twelve short in numbers will pull down the JD(S)-Congress combine on the floor of the House.

The two parties can issue a whip. But if the disgruntled MLAs defy the whip, the two parties can recommend disqualification. If that happens, the seats would fall vacant forcing re-election. These are Lingayat MLAs and the BJP will, in all probability, make them their candidates in case of a re-election.

What also need flagging here is that some JD(S) MLAs are upset at Kumaraswamy for stitching an alliance with Siddaramaiah who had promised to end the clan of the Gowdas. In his various election speeches, Siddarmaiah had spewed venom on Deve Gowda and Kumaraswamy and had, at one stage promised to give up politics if Kumaraswamy becomes the chief minister. In politics, ironies do not sink in.

All said, the Congress, full of factional leaders, will work overtime to give both the party and the JD(S) a tough time. Sources said that the Congress has prepared a laundry list for the JD(S) which includes deputy chief minister posts (2) and key portfolios of Home, Finance and Power.

What is also crucial is the way Siddaramaiah and his supporters react in the coming days. A bitter enemy of the JD(S) and the Gowda clan, Siddaramaiah will not give in that easily. Earlier in the day, in order to quell any doubts, the Congress pushed Siddaramaiah before the press where he said that the Congress will whole-heartedly and unconditionally support the JD(S) to form the next government. But Siddaramaiah’s body language clearly betrayed his unease. He looked obviously upset and angry.

There is also the strange case of Rahul Gandhi. As a loser, his party has won by coming to power in Karnataka; as a winner, he has lost to his party’s bitter enemy, the JD(S).

Will the BJP work some wonder? Senior RSS leader Ram Madhav was candid that with Amit Shah as the head, anything can happen.

Karnataka has a unique dish called the Bisi Belle Bath which is a strange mixture of improbables. Politics too is shaping up that way. Karnataka also has a famous saying: Swalpa adjust madi (somehow please adjust). This can happen in politics too. Interesting days ahead.