How Congress embarrassed itself in Karnataka
The party's support to HD Kumaraswany has only added to the weight of the regional parties.
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Despite conceding a lot of ground to the Janata Dal (Secular), the Congress seems to be happy about being able to prevent its arch rival BJP from coming to power in Karnataka.
In its hurry to grab power, the Congress forgot that it has lost badly in the elections to the BJP. The Congress, which won 122 seats in the 244-member Assembly in 2013, came down to 78 seats in the recently concluded elections.
Interestingly, the regional player JD(S) itself is not a trusted player in coalition politics. The Congress had entered into an alliance with the JD(S) in 2004 with Congress' Dharam Singh as chief minister. But the government fell within two years and HD Kumaraswamy became the CM by taking the support of BJP. This happened despite Kumaraswamy's father, former prime minister, HD Deve Gowda's stiff resistance against the partnership with the saffron party. The same Kumaraswamy is the CM of the coalition government now. It is therefore clear that the Congress support to its old rival JD(S) is only due to national political compulsions of stopping the bigger enemy, the BJP.
But fissures have already started to appear in the new government with the deeply contested portfolio sharing issue. It took the two parties over 10 days to divide the ministries between themselves with the high-stakes finance ministry going to the JD(S) and home ministry being won by the Congress. The Congress had shown great reluctance to give away the finance portfolio.
Kumaraswamy's refusal to give up the finance portfolio was due to his party's poll promise of waiving farmers' loan. He had promised that if he fails to implement it, he would resign from the CM's post. What added to the political drama was Kumaraswamy's statement that he is the CM of the state at Congress' mercy.
This was seen as a very important statement from the JD(S) leader. It means that the CM and his party, JD(S), have their plan B ready. If the government fails to perform, put the whole blame on coalition partner, Congress, and exit.
Also, Kumaraswamy's statement that the people had rejected JD(S) challenges the Congress' claim of Kannadigas rejecting BJP.
It is to be mentioned that JD(S) and Congress have been fighting in the Old Mysore region for the same vote bank, Vokkaliga, the second largest after the Lingayat.
Despite Congress losing 44 seats in the elections, JD(S) lost only three seats, thanks to the Vokkaliga support it enjoys. In the Old Mysore region where the Vokkaligas are concentrated, Congress got 17 seats losing eight seats and JDS got 28 seats. However, it was the BJP which emerged from being a nonentity to an important player in the region by winning 10 seats.
The fact that the Vokkaligas voted for the JD(S) is due to the community's anger against the earlier Siddaramaiah-led Congress government. So, there are chances of Vokkaligas, who support the JD(S) or Congress, shifting to the BJP due to the coming together of the arch rivals in the region.
For the JD(S), power has always been important, not the partners.
The "S" doesn't necessarily stand for "secularism" for the party. Being a marginal player, JD(S) needs the help of either the Congress or the BJP to come to power only to expand its base in the state. It won't be difficult for JD(S) to dump the Congress if it finds it difficult to implement its own agenda and join the BJP camp.
Kumaraswamy's statement that he didn't want to antagonise his father HD Deve Gowda by joining the saffron camp says a lot. Still, if the Congress thinks that it has emerged as the winner, it could be attributed to BJP's hasty efforts to taste power.
The election has, however, established beyond that that the once invincible Congress is no stronger than a regional party. Its support to the JD(S) has only added to the weight of the regional parties.
For the JD(S), this is an opportunity to emerge as the pan-Karnataka party by rightly playing capitalising on the political compulsions.
Also, BJP's gain in Karnataka has proved that PM Narendra Modi's magic, even though a bit weakened, still works in the south. For the Congress, the national political scenario is turning more difficult for it to appear comfortable before the 2019 general elections.