King, Not Kingmaker: JD(S) Emerges on Top in BJP-Congress Tussle

The JD(S) is in a plush position right now as both the national parties may be negotiating hard with it.

New Delhi: Like in any hung assembly scenario, Karnataka too is now witness to hectic negotiations. In a prompt move, the Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad announced that his party has decided to support the Janata Dal (Secular) with its leader H.D. Kumaraswamy as the chief minister.

Sources in the Congress said that Sonia Gandhi spoke to H.D. Deve Gowda and convinced him to accept her proposition. Deve Gowda has very carefully kept this door open with his frequent criticism of the BJP. He had, in fact, gone ahead and said that he would disown his son, Kumaraswamy if he partners with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). He also said it was a mistake to have allied with the BJP in the past. This was when speculations were rife that in case of a hung assembly, the JD(S) may go with the saffron party.

The BJP – which finished as the single-largest party (104 seats) – may have been taken off guard by Congress’s quick move, but the hung verdict has come as a sweetener for JD(S). The Vokkaliga-dominated party, which was struggling to retain its leaders until a month ago and was on the brink of irrelevance, has turned the tide in its favour by performing much beyond expectations. Although it has lost two percentage points in terms of vote share (from around 20% in 2013 to 18% now), it has managed to almost retain its 2013 figure. This has catapulted it into being the most crucial player in the post-poll scenario.

As the situation unfolds, it looks like the JD(S) is now not a kingmaker, as was expected, but, in fact, may become the king with Congress’s support. If this happens, it will surely project itself as a regional powerhouse in the 2019 parliamentary polls.

Now three possibilities emerge. One, as Azad said, both the parties will meet the governor this evening and stake their claim to form the government. Since both the parties are comfortably placed above the half-way mark of 113 seats (Congress at 77 and JD(S) at 39), the governor may call the parties to take the oath.

Two, given the recent record of BJP-appointed governors in other states like Manipur and Goa, it is highly unlikely that Vajubhai Vala, an old RSS-hand and a well-known BJP leader in Gujarat who is also known to have vacated his Rajkot seat for Narendra Modi to contest, will give in to the Congress-JD(S) demand so easily. The governor can exercise his discretionary power in taking this decision. In all likelihood, he may delay the decision to call a party to form the government.

The BJP has spent huge human and financial resources to emerge as the single-largest party while fighting a popular Siddaramaiah. It has already voiced its dissent against such a post-poll alliance, claiming that such a government will go against the mandate. Yeddyurappa told the media that the Congress was trying to come to power through “the back door” despite being rejected by the people of Karnataka.

The BJP’s position is legitimate but its critics may well say that the saffron party in recent times has employed the same formula in states like Manipur and Goa in its road to power. Party leaders have hinted that BJP may go to court to appeal against such an alliance but legal precedence indicates that the court may not rule out post-poll alliances.

There is a third but a far-too-stretched possibility too. That the BJP manages to break around 26 MLAs – two-third of the total number – of the JD(S) and get them to support Yeddyurappa. This is highly unlikely as the proposition of Kumaraswamy as the chief minister may be more luring.

The problem for BJP is that in the electoral contest, all the seats are divided between the three parties. Only two independent candidates have managed to win, and whose support will not give the BJP enough numbers to form the government.

Only if JD(S) supports the party, it can think of getting to power. However, from the looks of it now, JD(S) would care more about leading the government instead of supporting a Yeddyurappa government. The only way BJP can think of winning over JD(S) is by offering a chief ministerial berth to Kumaraswamy – which is unlikely as Lingayats, the political rivals of Vokkaligas, may see it as a betrayal by the BJP.

Right now, the JD(S) is a plush seat as both the national parties may be negotiating hard with it. Many predicted a hung assembly but none predicted that only the JD(S), with strength in only around 60 of the 224 seats – will emerge as the winner.

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