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Congress-JD(S) govt in Karnataka on the rocks: Rift between coalition partners may be at heart of BJP poaching allegations

The Congress was buoyant in May 2018 when it pulled a BJP and formed a coalition government in Karnataka with the Janata Dal (Secular). Such was its drive to keep the saffron party away from office that it even gave up the chief minister's seat to the partner. But not all (read, former chief minister Siddaramaiah) were happy about ceding power to the coalition partner.

Strains in the state government have been visible since July 2018 — mere months after the Assembly elections — when Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy broke down at an event organised to felicitate him. "The chief minister's post is not a bed of roses, it's a bed of thorns," he had said, explaining his difficulty in running the government with the Congress as his coalition partner, having an Opposition like the BJP to fend off and also meeting the aspirations of his own MLAs.

By no means has it been smooth sailing for the JD(S) and Congress in Karnataka. The rift has been widening gradually, even if leaders of both parties, including Kumaraswamy and Deputy Chief Minister G Parameshwara, continue to deny the speculation.

On Monday, a new battle surfaced in Karnataka politics, with both the Congress-JD(S) alliance and the BJP accusing each other of poaching MLAs from their rival camps and both sides denying the allegations. The BJP even went to the extent of holing up over 100 of its MLAs at a resort in Gurugram, moving them to the Haryana city after the national executive meeting concluded.

 Congress-JD(S) govt in Karnataka on the rocks: Rift between coalition partners may be at heart of BJP poaching allegations

File image of Karnataka Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy and Congress leader Siddaramaiah. AP and PTI

Karnataka BJP chief BS Yeddyurappa rubbished reports that his party was attempting another 'Operation Lotus' in the state to topple the government, referring to the BJP allegedly luring several Opposition MLAs in 2008 to defect to ensure stability of its then government. He said there was no truth to the charge and, in turn, alleged that the Congress-JD(S) combine was trying to woo his party MLAs.

At the same time, there are also reports that at least six Congress MLAs came to a hotel in Mumbai on Monday, where they are in touch with BJP leaders. Purported visuals of BJP leaders at the hotel have only added to the poaching allegations. But both sides are still denying poaching rival party legislators.

On Tuesday, Congress leader Zameer Ahmed told reporters: "Four-five of our party MLAs are in Mumbai. We will not sit silently if attempts of poaching are made. Even we are in touch with some BJP MLAs. We had spoken to two-three of our MLAs, while the other MLAs' phones are off. I can assure, you no one will leave."

But both sides are still denying poaching rival party legislators.

There are two aspects to look at here: One, Ahmed's statement contradicts his chief minister's stand from Monday, when Kumaraswamy had said there was no question of "instability" in his government, and that he had the sufficient numbers to run a stable government. Two, Kumaraswamy has contradicted his own self by denying any instability in the coalition a day after he warned the Congress against treating JD(S) leaders as "third grade citizens". Kumaraswamy had emphasised that the Congress must adopt a "give-and-take policy" to put up a united fight against the BJP, and that there should not be any "pettiness" on either side.

He had made the statement in view the delicate seat-sharing talks between the Congress and JD(S), which are on for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. There is pressure within the Congress to not cede too much to the JD(S), and the regional partner itself is under pressure to not give in to high-handedness from the Congress. Such is the situation at present that even the strains in the coalition are feeling the strain, as the JD(S) is believed to have demanded 12 of 28 seats in Karnataka for the Lok Sabha polls, while the Congress has offered it half the number.

Now, let's look at this analogy: When there are disagreements and fights between parents, they invariably have an impact on the children. Apply this logic to the current scenario in Karnataka, and we could conclude that at the heart of the poaching allegations of the Congress-JD(S) unite and BJP could be the dissatisfaction of coalition MLAs with the estrangement in the Karnataka government. The strained ties between the Congress and JD(S) is bound to have an affect on the legislators trying to work for the government, opening them up to be lured by the BJP to the more stable, infighting-free saffron side.

At the time of writing, there's breaking news that two Independent MLAs have withdrawn support to the Congress-JD(S) government in Karnataka, citing lack of understanding between the "allies". H Nagesh and R Shankar have written to the Governor of Karnataka about rescinding their support for the coalition government, no doubt triggering prayers among non-BJP supporters for better health of the Karnataka government. For this , too, the state has pinned the blame on the BJP.

Moreover, there are reports that the BJP will move a no-confidence motion in the Assembly next week after "10 Congress and three JD(S) MLAs" jump ship to the saffron side.

In view of the seat-sharing talks and a slew of reports on the rift in the administration, JD(S) supremo and former prime minister HD Deve Dowda said: "Both parties have leaders mature enough to handle the issue. We will settle it without any problem." He also exuded confidence in Congress president Rahul Gandhi, saying he understood the importance of regional parties in the fight against the BJP.

Also, state minister DK Shivakumar, who was the first to bring up the matter of Congress MLAs in hiding in Mumbai, said on Tuesday: "The government is stable. It will run for a full five-year term under the leadership of Kumaraswamy."

The Congress-JD(S) might still have the numbers to hold a majority in the Karnataka Assembly, but if it turns out that Deve Gowda was wrong about Rahul's maturity in understanding the need for regional support and Shivakumar's confidence was misplaced, there could be another saffron stamp on the India map.

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Updated Date: Jan 15, 2019 15:54:33 IST