Op-Ed: Karnataka: Congress Gets Its Act Together

For once, the tables have been turned. The mighty, rampaging, all-conquering BJP juggernaut has been halted. Just as he had promised in the run up to the Karnataka elections, HD Kumaraswamy, the man who finished last in the race, has emerged as the ‘king’ rather than the ‘kingmaker’, leaving a sulking BS Yeddyyurappa to live for the rest of his life with the ignominy of being the shortest living Chief Minister in the history of the state.

In hindsight, it was the all-important decision of the Congress to hand over on a platter the Chief Minister’s gaddi to Kumaraswamy that sealed the fate of the BJP. The Congress could afford to do it because all it wanted was to keep the BJP at bay. In any case, it would have pushed Kumaraswamy to the BJP fold had it not offered him the CM’s chair. The BJP couldn’t afford to do the same because all it wanted was to add yet another state – and an important one at that – to its already impressive tally of 21 states where it is in power. Karnataka was especially important for the saffron party because it is the only southern state where it has well-entrenched roots. In any case, it would have been suicidal for the party to play second fiddle to an unreliable Kumaraswamy in view of the coming elections. Having won 104 seats, just eight short of the magic number, it made political sense for the party to live to fight another day. It knows that it could well have a shot at power before the end of the current Assembly’s term given its numbers, the slender majority of the Congress-JD (S) and the unreliability of Kumaraswamy.

For those who don’t know or have forgotten, it is worth recalling what happened between 2004 and 2007 to understand why the alliance with Congress is not set in stone. After the Congress withdrew support to the alliance government, HD Kumaraswamy went against the advice of his father HD Deve Gowda to strike a deal with the BJP under which both sides would share the Chief Minister’s chair equally for the remaining period of the term. Accordingly, Kumaraswamy was sworn in as CM on February 3, 2006. But when his turn came to hand over the chair to BJP on October 3, 2007 as per the terms of the deal, he refused to budge. President’s Rule was imposed and BJP romped home under Yeddy in the elections that followed. The possibility of Kumaraswamy doing an encore in this term should the situation so demand thus cannot be entirely ruled out. In rejoicing over the failure of the BJP to prove its majority, we must not lose sight of the fact that the post poll tie up between the Congress and JD (S) is an opportunistic alliance that has made a mockery of the mandate given by the people of Karnataka.

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After being at the receiving end of the BJP’s machinations in Goa, Manipur and Meghalaya last year, the Congress has done well to get its act together, keep its flock together and checkmate its arch rival, which must have explored all possible ways to buy out a few ‘horses’ in its stable. In the process, the party has shown a steely resolve that hasn’t really been in evidence since its rout in the 2014 general elections. The outcome has also helped dispel any residual doubts about Rahul Gandhi’s leadership credentials. He has come of age just in time for his first major battle since becoming Congress President: the 2019 general elections. The Gandhi scion has clearly decided that “stooping to conquer” is the best policy for his party till it regains its mojo fully. Senior Odisha Congress leader Sarat Rout has already given a hint of the shape of things to come by openly declaring that his party was not averse to joining hands with the BJD to keep the BJP at bay, something that Bhakta Das had hinted at the other day.

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The outcome in Karnataka will also give hope to other opposition parties that the BJP can be defeated with the right strategy among them. The experiment that started in the two crucial Lok Sabha by-elections in Gorakhpur and Phulpur in Uttar Pradesh will certainly gather momentum in the days and weeks leading up to the 2019 polls. But after the latest development in Karnataka, there will be few takers for the idea of a non-BJP, non-Congress federal front. Instead, an UPA like umbrella coalition with the Congress at the Centre looks more likely to take shape ahead of the next elections.

As for the BJP, Karnataka is certainly the biggest setback for the all-conquering Modi-Shah duo since the elections in Bihar and Delhi in 2015. While it is possible that the party may yet get an opportunity to sneak into power in Karnataka, the Big Two must have realized that they need to come up with a new strategy to prevent the constellation of regional parties around the Congress, something that could put paid to its hopes of returning to power in 2019.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)