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In a surprising turn of events, Congress moved swiftly to offer support and the CM’s post to JD(S) after it became apparent that it was in no position to retain office. So, having slid to 78 seats after losing more than 40 seats it had held, Congress offered unconditional support to JD (S), which won 38. Their tally of 116 seats is ahead of the simple majority of 112.
BJP also swung into action, despatching central ministers Prakash Javadekar, Dharmendra Pradhan and J P Nadda to Bengaluru to consult CM-nominee B S Yeddyurappa and other state leaders on options that could include getting MLAs from the rival camp to absent themselves or vote for BJP in defiance of party whips. This would bring down the mark required for a simple majority.
This will not be an easy task for BJP, but it is probing discontent in Congress ranks over the likely elevation of Kumaraswamy while also exploring vulnerabilities in JD (S), reviving speculation of a repeat of “Operation Lotus” that the party undertook to gain numbers after forming a government in 2008. Congress leaders said they would work to ensure that such plans do not work and are looking to secure their flock.
The action has conclusively shifted to Raj Bhavan, where governor Vajubhai Vala, a former RSS functionary and Modi’s erstwhile cabinet colleague in Gujarat, holds all the cards. His decision on who to invite first to form the government for a floor test will set the tone for events to follow.
The results were, actually, a disappointment for all three main players. Earlier on Tuesday it seemed certain that BJP would form a government on its own as it raced to 118 clear leads. Later its momentum stalled and it halted at 104. BJP had hoped that Shah’s poll management combined with Modi’s highly successful blitzkrieg before polls would do the trick. It almost did.
The results are more or less in tune with exit polls (a majority of which predicted an inconclusive verdict with BJP ahead) though Congress was shocked to have lost 43 seats, being caught in a pincer between a resurgent BJP and a determined JD(S) that held on to its areas of strength.
Though JD(S) did not add substantially to its existing tally, dropping by two, it did enough to deny Congress seats and emerge as the rather unanticipated reciepient of Congress overtures. Kumaraswamy is understood to have hoped for more seats. He told aides, “Despite an open heart surgery I campaigned hard across the state but voters just went for caste.”
Kumaraswamy had apparently favoured an alliance with BJP in the belief that the saffron party would be inclined to consider such an arrangement as the main target for both was Congress. Besides, he was upset with Siddaramaiah for targeting the Gowda family during campaigning. But the offer of being made CM was a big hook and the senior Gowda, who is open to the prospect of being an important part of an anti-BJP coalition for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, had his way. His emotional appeal to his son that “I want to die a secular man” added to the persuasion. Interestingly, Deve Gowda’s 86th birthday is on May 18, so he will be hoping for his son to clinch government formation to add to the celebrations.
According to sources, JD (S) was also miffed that BJP, once it felt it would get a majority on its own, made no effort to make contact. Efforts were made only after its figures started dropping late in the afternoon.
Congress was better prepared for this verdict. In fact, as soon as the exit polls were out, trouble-shooters Ghulam Nabi Azad and Ashok Gehlot – both old work horses in the game of coalition politics -were dispatched to Bengaluru to work out a formula to keep the BJP at bay even at the cost of having to placate the JD(S).
According to Congress sources, the backroom discussions were between Azad and JD(S) secretary-general K Danish Ali in New Delhi late on Sunday night. “We discussed all hypothetical situations and mutually agreed to come together without any conditions,” Ali told TOI.
The action was put in place on Tuesday around 12.30 pm, when Ali called Siddaramaiah, who is reported to have agreed to go along. Kumaraswamy was contacted soon after he landed from Singapore in the early hours of Tuesday.
“Initially, Kumaraswamy was reluctant, giving examples of how BJP had won in Hassan because of the Congress’s propaganda of JD(S) being its B-team and also about the seven rebel party MLAs joining the party,” sources quoting Kumaraswamy said.
Meanwhile, former Congress president Sonia Gandhi spoke to Gowda, requesting him to agree to the pact. BJP is reported to have sent advocate Dore Raju for negotiations with the JD(S) as they had in 2006. Gowda declined to entertain him.
Disappointed by JD(S) disinterest, Yeddyurappa met governor Vajubhai Vala seeking two days time to stake claim. An hour later, Congress and JD(S) leaders led by Siddaramaiah and Kumaraswamy met the governor and submitted separate but identical letters also staking claim.
Soon after results were declared Congress state campaign committee chairman D K Shivakumar drove to Kolar, 60 km from Bengaluru, to bring independent MLA H Nagesh, who won from Mulbagal. The party is hopeful of roping in the other Independent MLA from Ranebennur R Shankar,too. “Both parties will move our legislators for safe-keeping, They are using all central agencies to switch sides,” Congress sources said.
JD(S) sources said Deve Gowda and Kumaraswamy were keen on making the Congress an active partner in the government instead of obtaining outside support from the latter. “We are not sure when the rug will be pulled from under our feet if the Congress stays outside, we have told the Congress leaders that we prefer a coalition arrangement led by us,” a JD(S) leader said.
Sources said the proposal will be a win-win situation for both the parties: While the Congress will not face the ignominy of being wiped out of Karnataka, the JDS will be guaranteed of stability, at least till the Lok Sabha poll.