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Karnataka polls: HD Kumaraswamy wins trust vote, but unhappy Congress leaders indicate rough road ahead

Congress and Janata Dal (Secular) teamed up to form a coalition in Karnataka which they thought would make all other political alliances India has ever seen look like tea-parties. Congress President Rahul Gandhi can’t stop congratulating himself on this singular achievement. And why not? The coalition was even stitched up faster than a Kannada chef cooks bisibela bath.

 JD(S) leader and Karnataka chief minister-designate H D Kumaraswamy presents a bouquet to Congress President Rahul Gandhi, during a meeting at latter's residence, in New Delhi, on Monday. Former Congress president Sonia Gandhi is also seen. PTI

JD(S) leader and Karnataka chief minister-designate H D Kumaraswamy presents a bouquet to Congress President Rahul Gandhi, during a meeting at latter's residence, in New Delhi, on Monday. Former Congress president Sonia Gandhi is also seen. PTI

But it now seems that some ingredients are missing from Karnataka’s political porridge. Or worse, it’s half-cooked.

That’s what local Congress leaders, miffed over the party’s abject surrender to JD(S) in handing over the chief minister’s post to HD Kumaraswamy, mean when they say that "modalities" of the alliance are still to be worked out. And that’s what will keep Kumaraswamy on toes, despite winning the motion of confidence in the Assembly on Thursday and proving his majority.

Shorn of niceties, what the Congress leaders want is this: The "unconditional" support their central leaders offered to JD(S), in the heat of losing the 12 May Assembly election and the gung-ho madness over opposition unity, must now begin to have some conditions attached to it.

Now that the euphoria over Kumaraswamy’s blockbuster swearing-in and the talk of a mega front against BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha election has almost died down, and now that the new chief minister has crossed the hurdle of a trust vote, the Congress leaders feel the time has come to ask a fundamental question: What does this alliance mean politically to Congress?

An unequal alliance in which JD(S) keeps the chief minister’s slot with fewer than half the MLAs of Congress can only be equalled, to begin with, if Congress gets most of the key portfolios in the ministry, which Kumaraswamy will get around to constitute now.

After ministry formation, the question of sharing the chief minister’s post will continue to linger. Mentioning Kumaraswamy and such time-sharing in the same sentence may send shivers down the spines of Congress leaders. They haven’t forgotten that such an arrangement between JD(S) and BJP ended in disaster in 2007. But that doesn’t stop them from asking for a deal which will see Kumaraswamy make way for a Congress leader at some point. In this respect, the first googly has already been bowled by the party’s deputy chief minister G Parameshwara.

A googly from deputy chief minister

On Thursday, Parameshwara said he was not sure whether Kumaraswamy would last the full five-year term as a part of the coalition arrangement. But Parameshwara is as much at home with plant physiology, in which he has a doctorate from the University of Adelaide, as he is with political semantics. He said in the same breath that there was "no agreement" on sharing the post either.

One leader who wants to be the chief minister is Parameshwara himself, who thinks he had missed it when the party won the 2013 election. But the Dalit leader has to contend with the likes of Vokkaliga strongman DK Shivakumar, who is convinced that there is nobody more qualified than himself to replace Kumaraswamy, also a Vokkaliga, when the time is ripe for it.

Having guarded the party’s MLAs successfully against the clumsy poaching attempts by BJP which made a go at forming the government, Shivakumar feels he hasn’t been paid back sufficiently. For him, the aura of "man of the match" bestowed on him by party colleagues and the media must translate into a plum job that will be the headline of the first chapter in his future biography. In recognition for services rendered, he expected to be a chief minister of the alliance, or at least a deputy chief minister, or if not that, the state Congress president in place of Parameshwara, or at the very least a minister with a key portfolio to be sworn in along with the chief minister and deputy chief minister on Wednesday.

Rahul Gandhi has harped on the "larger interests" of opposition unity that made this coalition necessary. But, for the Congress leaders, there are interests, their own, which are larger than trouncing Narendra Modi in 2019. Shivakumar is making that very clear.

Shivakumar will play "chess"

A disgusted Shivakumar abandoned the MLAs he was guarding at a posh hotel the night before Kumaraswamy’s swearing-in on the pretext that he hadn’t gone home for a month and needed to freshen up. Once he was home, he lost cool and told reporters: "I have not come to politics to take sanyas, and will play chess not football. Let the party decide what I should do."

It must be understood that Shivakumar is also demanding compensation that would be big enough to soothe his bruised ego. The exigencies of alliance politics can’t brush under the carpet his legendary enmity with Kumaraswamy and his father and former prime minister HD Deve Gowda. Accepting a fellow Vokkaliga and a sworn enemy like Kumaraswamy as chief minister, for him, means nothing less than taking political sanyas, which he says he is not ready for.

Siddaramaiah in tizzy

"I will wait and watch," Shivakumar said with a knife-edge in his voice. There are many like him who are waiting and watching. Important among them is none other than outgoing chief minister Siddaramaiah.

Siddaramaiah has his own hostility towards Kumaraswamy’s family and has no love lost for his own party colleague Parameshwara either. He is in a tizzy about the top two slots in the government going to these two men. Besides, he is peeved that the central leadership was working on the alliance a couple of days before the polling day without his knowledge, leave alone consent. Kumaraswamy’s revelation in the assembly on Friday that it was Parameshwara who had first broached with him an alliance wouldn’t have pleased the former chief minister’s ears.

Kumaraswamy was part of alliances with both Congress and BJP earlier. Both collapsed in disgrace and both parties squarely blamed him for it. In the last few days, he has said in more than one interview that he is a changed man. Congress leaders can only hope that he really is.

The author tweets @sprasadindia


Updated Date: May 25, 2018 22:27 PM

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