If hung Assembly again in Karnataka, real winner will be the JD(S)

Karnataka bypolls, by elections, results, December 8, BJP, Congress, JD(S), South India, majority, rebel MLAs, KR Ramesh Kumar, HD Kumaraswamy, Yediyurappa, HD Devegowda, Siddaramaiah, Sonia Gandhi
Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa (left) and HD Kumaraswamy (right). File photo: PTI

If the BJP wins at least seven of the 15 constituencies going to polls on December 5, it will continue in power with no sweat. But if it gets fewer seats, resulting in a hung Assembly, then all eyes will be on the Janata Dal (Secular) and its unpredictable father-son duo — former prime minister H D Deve Gowda and his son ex-chief minister H D Kumaraswamy.

Since the fall of the Congress-JD(S) coalition government on July 29 this year following the desertion of 17 of its legislators, the JD(S) has kept everyone guessing which side it will lean to. On occasions, both Gowda and his son have said they are likely to go with the Congress. But a couple of times, Kumaraswamy has also said he will support the BJP if the need arises.

What makes it difficult to even speculate which way the JD(S) will turn is the fact that the party has had coalitions with both the Congress and the BJP in the past. In 2004, following a hung Assembly, the JD(S) supported the Congress and formed a government. Two years later, Kumaraswamy walked away from the coalition and tied up with the BJP’s B S Yediyurappa and created a new government.

Again, in the May 2018 Assembly elections, the JD(S) allied with the Congress and stumped the BJP by forming government. The BJP with eight seats short could only watch in frustration.

Also read: Karnataka CM warns of legal action against Siddaramiah, Kumaraswamy

But the BJP, which has mastered the art of triggering defections in opposition parties, earlier this year succeeded in luring 17 legislators (including two independents) away from the coalition and came to power as the single largest party in a truncated house of 107.

For the JD(S), its alliance with the Congress has been a mixed experience. Kumaraswamy was unable to believe his luck when the Congress offered him chief ministership in 2018 despite the JD(S) winning fewer numbers. But his reign, with the Congress in tow, at times appeared to have frustrated him even pushing him to tears. A section of the Congress refused to treat him as a chief minister and kept demanding that Siddaramaiah should be in that position.

Somehow, with the Congress high command and Deve Gowda steadfast in their alliance, they managed to avert a break up. In the May 2019 Lok Sabha elections, both the parties allied with each other for the first time in the state’s electoral history and fought the elections. But it proved a unmitigated disaster with the coalition winning just two seats of the total 28.

Therefore in the December 5 bye-elections, the two parties are going separately. This is why the confusion over the JD(S)’s plans. If, as widely expected, the results get shared among the three, it will again open up two possibilities – a JD(S) coalition either with the BJP or with the Congress.

Also read: Congress demands dismissal of Yediyurappa govt post SC ruling on MLAs

Interestingly, the BJP has not outright attacked Kumaraswamy. Yediyurappa has even sent feelers to the JD(S) in an act of reconciliation. The relations between the two had soured after Kumaraswamy in 2008 did not hand over the chief minister’s chair as had been agreed upon between them. The coalition collapsed and Yediyurappa came to power. The BJP ruled until 2013 when it lost elections to the Congress.

Since the fall of the Congress-JD(S) coalition government in July, though there has been no bonhomie between Kumaraswamy and Yediyurappa there has not been a visible display of animosity either. This has given rise to speculation over a making up between the JD(S) and the BJP.

On the other hand, Kumaraswamy developed a close relationship with his one-time rival D K Shivakumar of the Congress during their recent stint in the coalition government. Kumaraswamy even took the trouble of travelling to Delhi and visiting Shivakumar in Tihar jail where the Congress politician had been jailed on charges of money laundering.

All these activities of the top persona in the three parties have resulted in a complete lack of clarity over what exactly the JD(S) will do in the event of the BJP not crossing the winning line on its own.

Also read: Cong seeks K’taka BJP govt’s dismissal; BJP says CM quoted out of context

If the JD(S) had been contemplating backing the BJP under political and extraneous pressure that the Amit Shah-led saffron party has now come to be associated with, the Maharashtra denouement is an eye-opener. For, despite the BJP’s top leadership of Shah and Prime Minister Narendra Modi intervening to get the party to power somehow, it did not succeed.

For the JD(S), Maharashtra is a clear indicator that the BJP is not infallible and it need not be pressured to join Yediyurappa on his terms.

Interestingly, in 2006 Kumaraswamy along with the JD(S) shifted loyalty to the BJP as he was made chief minister. Similarly, in May 2018, he joined the Congress as he was offered chief ministership. This makes it clear that for the JD(S) and Kumaraswamy what is important is the chief minister’s chair.

Despite cribbing, crying and grumbling as chief minister during the recent 14-month alliance with the Congress, Kumaraswamy did not show any inclination to resign either in protest or out of frustration. Instead, he carried on braving any challenge that was thrown at him. This makes at least one thing clear: that, in the event of a hung Assembly following the December 5 elections, whoever offers Kumaraswamy the top job is the winner.

At the moment, both Yediyurappa and Siddaramaiah have shown no inclination to offer the chief minister’s job on a platter to Kumaraswamy. But, going by past experience, that is possibly the only way they can get JD(S) on their side – an unenviable situation for both, but one they have no choice but to swallow if the need arises.