Karnataka's Gowda clan faces threat of marginalisation with poll rout, strains in alliance: Will JD(S) dump Congress in a repeat of 2006?

The movie isn't over yet. It’s just the intermission. So pick up your popcorn, sit back and wait for the curtain to go up again.

In the first half of the movie, Narendra Modi vanquished the main villain Rahul Gandhi and his satraps. In the second half, he is expected to decimate other flunkeys and allies of the dynast. Topping that list are HD Kumaraswamy, the chief minister of the Janata Dal (S) and Congress coalition in Karnataka, and Kamal Nath, the Congress chief minister of Madhya Pradesh.

In both the states, the governments have wafer-thin majorities in the Assemblies and the BJP has done quite well in the latest Lok Sabha elections. The BJP won 25 of the 28 seats in Karnataka and 28 of the 29 seats in MP.

But the problem in Karnataka, as the BJP sees it, might resolve itself soon in one of two ways: One, the BJP, much stronger now, will once again try to woo MLAs from JD(S) and Congress to form its government. Two, a faction of the JD(S) aligns with the BJP just the way it happened in 2006.

The first is a distinct possibility. With a by-election victory taking the BJP’s strength in the 224-member Assembly to 105, the party now needs only eight MLAs to destabilise the HD Kumaraswamy government. That doesn’t look too tough, considering the disgruntlement in Congress. When this happens, the Gowda clan gets nothing.

It’s the second scenario—of a section of JD(S) backing a BJP government in return for a few ministerial portfolios—that will help the Gowda family or a part of it to stay on in power. This is just in the realm of speculation, the only basis for which being that it happened before, in 2006.

 Karnatakas Gowda clan faces threat of marginalisation with poll rout, strains in alliance: Will JD(S) dump Congress in a repeat of 2006?

File image of JD(S) chief HD Deve Gowda. News18

The JD(S) is little more than a family enterprise. If the party’s chief honcho Deve Gowda’s third son Kumaraswamy is the chief minister, second son Revanna is a powerful minister in the coalition cabinet. Kumaraswamy’s wife Anita is an MLA. Revanna’s wife Bhavani is active in the Zilla Panchayat politics of the family’s home district. DC Thammanna, the father-in-law of Gowda’s youngest son Ramesh, a radiologist, is a minister.

Gowda has now reasons to be upset. In the Lok Sabha election, Gowda and his grandson (the son of Kumaraswamy) Nikhil have lost the Tumakuru and Mandya seats respectively. Apart from the Modi wave, what caused their defeats is the sabotage by the supporters of Congress leader Siddaramaiah. The lone victory of another grandson Prajwal (son of Revanna) can hardly make up for the loss of power and political marginalisation the family appears to face.

What happened in 2006

In January 2006, the coalition government of Congress and JD(S) headed by chief minister Dharam Singh collapsed after nearly two years of bickering over sharing power. Singh (Congress) resigned after Kumaraswamy walked out of the coalition with 48 MLAs, aligned with the BJP which had 79 members and became the Chief Minister. Gowda then said it was the “saddest” day of his life, disowning what his son did. He compared Kumaraswamy’s rebellion to what the Congress had done in 1997 to cut short his tenure as the Prime Minister of the United Front. He, of course, mysteriously made up with his son later.

What’s different between 2006 and 2019 is that BJP is much stronger now and short of only eight MLAs. It’s unlikely to concede too much to a JD(S) faction if such a scenario arises. But the need for the Gowda family to remain in power is too compelling, even without the CM’s post. And as for state BJP president BS Yeddyurappa, he is in too much of a hurry to snatch the CM’s job once again. He had three truncated terms as CM earlier—the first lasted seven days (2007); the second, three years (2008-11) and the third, six days (2018).

The key player in the Congress is, of course, Siddaramaiah. The fact that family mattered to Gowda more than anything else was the chief reason why Siddaramaiah, once an important leader of JD(S), rebelled against that party. Expelled from JD(S) in 2005, he joined the Congress next year and became the chief minister in 2013. Ever since they parted ways, Siddaramaiah and Gowda have been trying to destroy each other politically in the southern Karnataka where both have significant strength.

But the Congress president forced the state unit to have an alliance with JD(S) after the 2018 Assembly election to keep the BJP, the single largest party, out of power. Rahul conceded the chief minister’s post to JD(S) though it has only half the number of MLAs Congress has, to flaunt the coalition as a model for a nationwide Mahagathbandhan he proposed to fight BJP.

Hardly a month after the coalition government was formed in May 2018, Siddaramaiah was heard saying in a leaked video tape, that he doubted whether the Congress-JD(S) government would last beyond the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. And all along Siddaramaiah has been giving one pinprick or the other to Kumaraswamy, raising frequent doubts over the government’s survival.

Each time it appeared on the brink of collapse on account of either internal bickering or threat from the BJP, the coalition survived. Rahul is apparently keen on continuing the coalition, but the situation is no longer in his hands. The government has been in a state of ‘going, going’ for too long. It may be ‘gone’ soon, unless a miracle saves it.

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Updated Date: May 25, 2019 11:46:26 IST