Karnataka polls: BS Yeddyurappa, Siddaramaiah's battle for CM's post highlights divisions in BJP and Congress

Is it 17 May? Or 18? or 19?

With the different dates for the swearing-in ceremony mentioned by BS Yeddyurappa, it would appear the BJP's chief ministerial face is not able to make up his mind. Or it is simply a case of pushing the date ahead to give elbow room for parleys in case the BJP falls short of the 113 mark?

File image of Siddaramaiah and BS Yeddyurappa. Getty images and PTI

File image of Siddaramaiah and BS Yeddyurappa. Getty images and PTI

But the larger message remains the same: The 75-year-old Lingayat strongman of the BJP is firm he will take the oath of office before the week is out. He gives the BJP 125-130 seats, and insists the Congress will not cross 70 seats. Siddaramaiah is the last Congress chief minister in the state, he added with a dramatic flourish. In fact, he told the media on Sunday that he was willing to write out the BJP tally on a piece of paper sitting in his puja room.

The numbers get reversed when you hear the Congress side. People close to Siddarmaiah put the Congress figure at 107, and hope it could surge to 120. Siddaramaiah, all through the campaign, was emphatic that he, and no one else, will be chief minister after 15 May.

It was obvious because Congress president Rahul Gandhi, in a departure from the typical high command culture, gave Siddaramaiah a free hand in deciding the flavour of the campaign, its tone and tenor and even a decisive say in selection of candidates.

The dark horse in the campaign is HD Kumaraswamy, whose Twenty20 match more than a decade ago ended with the JD(S) leader proving to be a bad sport. After playing his innings for 20 months as chief minister, he refused to hand the baton to Yeddyurappa for the remaining 20 months. Kumaraswamy thought he was hitting BSY for a free hit but instead he ended up ushering the BJP into powerplay for five years from 2008.

Kumaraswamy's constituency Ramanagara, on the outskirts of Bengaluru city, is Sholay territory: The iconic film was shot there in the 1970s. He knows the value of kitne aadmi the? as the headcount is bound to start in the event of a hung verdict. In a move that surprised many, Kumaraswamy reportedly took off to Singapore for a couple of days. The Bengaluru rumour market is abuzz that the foreign locale is the bargaining spot chosen by Deve Gowda's son, to hold talks with a potential ally.

What surprised many was Siddaramaiah's response to a question that he would be okay with a Dalit chief minister, should the high command so decide. But while the comment — taken a bit out of context and which made for a juicy headline — suggested Siddaramaiah was admitting defeat, what was ignored was that he also said the opinion of the MLAs has to be taken into account. What was left unsaid was that the high command cannot unilaterally decide and bow to the wishes of its potential partner if it did not get the numbers.

Siddaramaiah is the captain of the ship. Only if the Congress tally goes below 100, can the Congress even think of dumping him as chief minister in order to enlist the JD(S) support. Rahul cannot afford to ignore the large support base that Siddaramaiah enjoys within the Karnataka Congress and it will be difficult for New Delhi to anoint a leader of its choice in Bengaluru without Siddaramaiah nodding in agreement.

The posturing is in fact, a sharp pointer to the divisions within the two mainstream party camps. For a significant part of the election campaign, the buzz that Yeddyurappa would be dumped after the results persisted. This created doubts in the minds of the Lingayat supporters if they should vote for a party that may ditch their man after 15 May. More so, with B Sriramulu being spoken of as a deputy chief minister aspirant. And if the BJP has to depend on the JD(S) to form the government, the chances of the Gowda parivar accepting BSY as chief minister would diminish to an extent. BSY's announcement of the date is to showcase his confidence in his numbers.

Siddaramaiah always had to deal with the label of an outsider, having joined the Congress only in 2006. Even when the question of who will be chief minister after the Congress victory in 2013 cropped up, two prominent Dalit names — Mallikarjun Kharge and G Parameshwara — popped up and Siddaramaiah had to bank on his stature of the person who led the campaign to propel him to the chief minister's chair. An anti-Dalit and anti-Vokkaliga image always dogged him and with the chances of a hung Assembly high, the same tag is likely to be used to nudge him out.

In fact, when in February 2015, the clamour for a Dalit chief minister rose several decibel levels, Siddaramaiah famously declared that he too is a Dalit, implying that the poor and the oppressed from all communities are like Dalits.

But it is clear the demand has not died down. During the campaign, whenever PCC chief Parameshwara was asked who will be chief minister if the Congress came to power, he did not endorse Siddaramaiah's name but said it will be for the MLAs to decide. Parameshwara obviously cannot forget how Siddaramaiah denied him the deputy chief minister's post and kept him waiting before finally making him home minister. Siddaramaiah made peace with Kharge by making his son Priyank Kharge the IT minister in his cabinet.

What Siddaramaiah's comment will do is create a rift between different Dalit leaders and their groups over who could become chief minister. This will suit Siddaramaiah as he still commands the loyalty of a majority of the Congressmen who have been given tickets. Moreover, if Kharge is brought back into Karnataka, it will snuff out Parameshwara's chances completely.

Clearly the politicking has begun even before the results are out. That is perhaps also because politicians have a fair idea how the voting has taken place. By Tuesday afternoon, only one of the two chief ministerial aspirants will have their tail up. And it is quite possible that Malleswaram, where Deve Gowda lives, may have the final word.

Click here for LIVE updates on Karnataka Assembly Election Result 2018

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Updated Date: May 15, 2018 08:23 AM

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