Former prime minister HD Deve Gowda is a political genius. Besides knowing how to invoke God to help him, he can even make his rivals to come to his side. Getting Siddaramaiah to shake hands with him after a gap of 12 years is the latest example.
Gowda’s first act of genius was to get the Congress to hand over the chief ministership to his family, though his party had won less than one-sixth of the total number of Assembly seats.
On 15 May, 2018, when the Karnataka Assembly results were pouring in, Gowda was glued to the telly at home. The frown on his brows, which grew deeper as the BJP’s seats' tally crossed the half-way mark, eased considerably when the BJP’s graph took a downturn, and settled at 104. Someone present at Gowda’s home heard him remark: "Now it’s all God’s game."
It is part of history that senior Congress leaders Ashok Gehlot and Ghulam Nabi Azad rushed to Deve Gowda’s residence and offered their party’s unconditional support to HD Kumaraswamy to become the chief minister of the Janata Dal (Secular)-Congress coalition government in Karnataka. God, with a bit of assistance from Gowda, had fulfilled the Gowda family’s wish, though the JD(S) had won a mere 37 seats in the 224-member Assembly.
Former chief minister Siddaramaiah, who was crestfallen at the Congress’s defeat, expressed his reservations about the deal, but he was firmly brushed aside by Gehlot, who was in constant touch with Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi.
Ever since the Kumaraswamy government took oath of office on 23 May, stability has eluded it, both because of internal strife in the Congress and sporadic attempts by the BJP to lure some of the MLAs to its side. Siddaramaiah, who assumed the dual role of leader of the Congress legislature party and chairman of the coordination committee, has added his own 'spice' from time to time to keep the government on tenterhooks.
Many senior Congress leaders believe that more than the personal animosity with the Gowda family, Siddaramaiah’s actions were intended to protect the interests of the Congress. They reckon that it's easier to handle an external enemy like the BJP, but the JD(S) being an 'internal rival', dependant largely on the same voter base, can cause far more damage to the party in the guise of 'opposition unity'.
Even as the Congress was grappling with how to respond to some of Kumaraswamy’s unilateral decisions, especially on loan waiver for farmers, and the rising disquiet within the party over the delay in expansion of the cabinet, the announcement of by-elections by the Election Commission came as a temporary reprieve to the leaders.
The by-elections to two Assembly and three Lok Sabha seats will act as a trial run to the mega fight during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The JD(S)-Congress combine will be facing the elections together for the first time, and it has already caused some jitters in the BJP camp.
Anitha Kumaraswamy, contesting from Ramanagaram Assembly seat vacated by her husband Kumaraswamy, is expected to win comfortably, but LR Shivarame Gowda, fighting from the Mandya Lok Sabha seat as a stop-gap candidate to make way for either Deve Gowda or his grandson Prajwal Revanna in the 2019 LS election, may require all of Gowda clan's backing to sail through.
From Jamkhandi in north Karnataka, the Congress is playing the emotional card by fielding Anand Nyamagouda, the son of former MLA Siddu Nyamagouda, who died in a road accident. The BJP is banking on Srikanth Kulkarni, who had lost narrowly last time.
In Bellari, the BJP has put up J Shantha, the sister of Sriramulu, who had won by a margin of one lakh votes last time. Though the Congress has five MLAs in the region, it was unable to resolve the competing demands of local leaders and has brought in VS Ugrappa, a rank outsider and a Siddaramaiah loyalist as its candidate.
Yet another round of dynastic politics will be witnessed in Shivamogga as the BJP is fielding BY Raghavendra, the son of state President BS Yeddyurappa, while the JD(S)' candidate is Madhu Bangarappa, the son of late chief minister S Bangarappa.
There has been a lot of heartburn within the Congress for 'surrendering' this seat to the JD(S), which it has never won and which had remained a Congress bastion until Yeddyurappa made it his stronghold. But pulling in Madhu Bangarappa at the last minute to contest from here is a masterstroke which only Deve Gowda could have come up with.
Madhu has nurtured his late father's constituency, even winning once from one of the Assembly segments and S Bangarappa remains a legend in these parts, winning multiple times to the Assembly and the Lok Sabha, irrespective of the party he represented.
Siddaramaiah and Deve Gowda — who have pledged to forget their past bitter relations and move on — are expected to hold a few joint campaigns, introducing new dynamics to the elections. How the grassroots-level workers of both the Congress and the JD(S) will view this new bonhomie and how the electorate themselves will perceive it remains to be seen.
One thing is clear: Deve Gowda not only has the Congress now relying on his tactical brilliance to take on the BJP in Karnataka, but possibly, he has also ensured that the state government headed by his son will continue beyond 2019.
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Updated Date: Oct 28, 2018 15:53 PM