Alliance partners in Karnataka — the Congress and the JD(S) — are set to contest against each other on Friday during elections to 105 urban local bodies (ULBs). The two parties insist that their decision to contest without an alliance is in view of the larger picture, which involves allowing BJP to secure lesser votes, and keeping their own workers happy.
Despite the fact that the Congress and JD(S) are contesting independently, the partnership of the two parties will be facing a litmus test on Friday.
Why are the polls important?
The civic polls assume significance because they are being held a few months after the Assembly polls. The Congress and the JD(S) were poll rivals during the Assembly polls, held on 12 May and formed a post-poll alliance with the aim to take down the BS Yeddyurappa government.
Now that HD Kumaraswamy has completed 100 days in office, the voters who will set out to exercise their franchise on Friday will mainly place their votes based on how they think the coalition government functioned in this period.
An overview of the ULB polls
The elections are being held to 2,574 wards in 105 urban local bodies — 29 city municipalities, 53 town municipalities and 23 town panchayats across Karnataka. The state has a total of 212 urban local bodies. Elections to such local bodies in Mysuru, Shivamogga and Tumakuru districts will not be held since a case regarding reservation of wards is pending before the Karnataka High Court.
In the second phase in November, elections will be held to the remaining 107 urban bodies, including seven city corporations.
The leadership of most political parties have decided to leave the task of driving the poll campaign on the local MLAs. However, the polls will be a test run for the grassroots political workers ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
In the 2013 elections, Congress performed the best, securing nearly 40 percent of wards leading the political analysts to suggest that the voters tend to side with the ruling party.
Fighting without an alliance
The thought behind the Congress-JD(S) contesting independently is that in places where either Congress or JD(S) — or both — are strong, they will fight separately. But wherever BJP has an upper hand, the two parties will have a "friendly cooperation" to reduce the chances of a win for the saffron party.
Another thing to factor in is the divide between north and south Karnataka. While both Congress and JD(S) have a strong base in pockets of southern Karnataka, the BJP has an upper hand in the north. Plus, the JD(S) has little presence in coastal and northern parts of the state.
The two parties also took the call in view of the ULB polls in the interest of the local workers. In case of an alliance, the parties would have to take a call for each seat about which leader from the two parties would be given the ticket.
Issues within Congress-JD(S)
Though differences within the alliance have been evident since the tie-up, former chief minister Siddaramaiah's recent remarks about becoming the state chief minister again paved way for speculation about the strains developing between the two coalition partners in the state.
As his statement raised a storm, Siddaramaiah clarified that he did not wish to assume charge now, but only after five years.
Following the statement, clamour grew within the Congress to make Siddaramaiah the chief minister. Agriculture minister Shivashankar Reddy went to the extent of building pressure on the coordination committee to appoint Siddaramaiah as the chief minister. Siddaramaiah himself heads the committee.
However, Karnataka Pradesh Congress president Dinesh Gundu Rao clarified that what Siddaramaiah meant to say was that he would become chief minister again if people blessed him one more time.
"His (Siddaramaiah's) statement was blown out of proportion and projected as if he wants to destabilise the government. He (Siddaramaiah) has already clarified that there is no question of unsettling the government," said Rao.
The state Congress president insisted that Congress has given in writing in the form of an agreement that the government will complete its five-year tenure. Deputy Chief Minister G Parameshwara also asserted that the coalition government headed by Kumaraswamy would complete its full term of five years.
In addition to this, JD(S) supremo and former prime minister HD Deve Gowda has insisted that state president Adagur H Vishwanath be made a member in the coordination committee, JD(S) sources told PTI.
With the second phase of cabinet expansion also pending, there are also some differences on the allocation of portfolios and appointment of chairmen of various government boards and corporations
At present, the cabinet comprises 16 Congress and 10 JD(S) members, including chief minister and deputy chief minister. As per rules, four more can be added, one from JD(S) and three from Congress.
The JD(S)-Congress Coordination Committee is scheduled to meet on Friday to iron out differences in the alliance.
What about BJP?
The ULB polls are also important for the BJP, which had emerged as the single largest party during the Assembly election, to assess its popularity across the state.
Before Yeddyurappa was supposed to face the floor test on 19 May, he gave an emotional speech and resigned as the chief minister. He said that he was stepping down even though the mandate wasn't for Congress or JDS, and called their alliance "unholy".
Since then, the BJP has been targetting the Kumaraswamy government and asserting that it won't last long. In view of the differences, Yeddyurappa had even claimed that several "disgruntled" leaders from the ruling coalition were eager to join his party.
The answer to who benefitted more from the coalition — the Congress, the JD(S), or the BJP — will only be known on 3 September, when the results are expected to be declared.
With inputs from agencies
Updated Date: Aug 30, 2018 22:55 PM