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The Kar'nataka' political soap opera

The Kar
Highlights

It's better for Congress and Karnataka if the Grand Old Party doesn't rock BJP boat in Kannada land

When will Congress learn and device mature political strategies? Unfortunately or fortunately, it is the Congress which has experience and network to take on BJP effectively in majority of states in the country. But people who are steering it in states and at the national level are ruining it through their greed for power. It's time Congress realises the reality and mends its ways.

I was in Badami in Bagalkot district of Karnataka on May 10, 2018, the last day of election campaign before the Kannada land went to polls on May 12 for electing new Assembly. Historic Badami town from where Badami Chalukyas ruled parts of Karnataka, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Kerala and Tamil Nadu for over 200 years from 540 to 757 AD, was witnessing an intense election battle between Siddaramaiah, then sitting Chief Minister of Karnataka, from Congress and BJP's B Sriramulu. Siddaramaiah chose Badami, a Congress stronghold, as second seat, as he sensed trouble in his traditional stronghold of Chamundeswari Assembly seat in Mysore district. BJP fielded mining baron Sriramulu, then Bellary MP, in Badami constituency to tame the Congress lion in his own den.

As that day progressed, political heat soared in the historic town. Karnataka BJP president and de facto CM candidate BS Yeddyurappa and BJP national president Amit Shah descended on Badami to make last ditch efforts to tilt scales in Sriramulu's favour. As their roadshow turned out to be a big hit in the small town, the talk of Sriramulu's easy win in Badami and BJP's victory in Karnataka was in the air. A smiling Yeddyurappa even declared in Badami that BJP would form the government.

But his hopes turned sour when votes were counted on May 15 last year and BJP failed to cross half-way mark by a whisker (8 seats). Sriramulu also lost in Badami by a slender margin, while he won from Molakalmuru in Chitradurga district. The saffron party secured 104 seats in a three-cornered contest while the majority mark in 224-Karnataka Assembly is 113. However, its seats increased by 60 from 44 seats in 2013. The tally of Congress which was in power till then came down to 78 from 122 five-years earlier. HD Deve Gowda-led JD (S) retained its tally with 37 seats against 40 in 2013.

Going by these numbers, it was a clear verdict against Congress and a BJP government with JD(S) support, inside or outside, would have been the ideal combination. But the Grand Old Party of India did not accept the defeat gracefully. Instead, it jumped into power game by offering chief ministerial position to JD(S), a party which has less than half of seats what Congress has. It was a marriage of convenience which no one expected to last long. The result. Yeddyurappa, sworn-in as Chief Minister on May 17, bowed out two days later due to lack of numbers. BJP could not form the government despite being the single largest party, but gained sympathy. Perhaps, the saffron party did not go for the kill at that time, keeping 2019 General Elections in mind. 'Power hungry' tag in Karnataka would have damaged its image in that State and across the country.

Congress-JD(S) government helmed by H D Kumaraswamy, son of Deve Gowda, replaced the short-lived BJP government. As Chief Minister Kumaraswamy's frequent cries and complaints revealed, it was a rocky relationship from the word go. JD(S), which hardly has 16 per cent of MLAs in its kitty , walked away with coveted CM post. Congress with over 35 per cent MLAs is the junior partner! Such unnatural political alliances never last long. Remember the Chandrasekhar government at Centre propped up by Rajiv Gandhi-led Congress in early 1990s? It lasted for merely four months.

A similar experiment propelled Deve Gowda into PM's chair on June 1, 1996. Congress supported this one too and the government survived for just 11 months. Despite hiccups, Kumaraswamy had a relatively-long stint of 14 months before losing trust vote this Tuesday (July 23). That was primarily because BJP did not want to precipitate matters till General Elections were over. It was a sound political strategy that paid rich political dividends for the saffron party. It swept 2019 Lok Sabha polls in Karnataka by winning 25 out of 28 seats. Even ex-PM Deve Gowda faced humiliating defeat in Tumkur.

Congress defended its move in Karnataka by pointing out incidents in Goa where BJP formed government even though Congress emerged as single largest party. But Goa is a politically-insignificant State with just 2 MP seats and so political developments there are unlikely to impact beyond the tiny State. But Karnataka is a big State and political ripples there will have reverberations in the State and also across the country. No surprise Congress and JD(S) got humiliated in Lok Sabha polls. The duo won just 2 MP seats.

BJP bore short-term pain to make long-term gains while Congress yearned for short-term gain while suffering in long-term. When will Congress learn and device mature political strategies? Unfortunately or fortunately, it is the Congress which has experience and network to take on BJP effectively in majority of states in the country. But people who are steering it in states and at the national level are ruining it through their greed for power. It's time Congress realises the reality and mends its ways.

But what should Congress do in Karnataka now? It should not rock the BJP boat there. Instead, it should focus on strengthening its base at grassroots, and needs to play an active Opposition role. It's peoples' support that matters the most for a political party, not the support of MLAs. If it makes another attempt at power and tries to destablise the Yeddyurappa government that has assumed charge on July 26, BJP may go for snap polls.

As BJP is on strong-footing at the grassroots level as is evident from the Lok Sabha results in which it secured majority in 170 Assembly seats, it is the Congress which will lose face. JD(S) will also bite the dust. BJP and its new Chief Minister Yeddyurappa, on their part, should focus on putting Karnataka on growth track. Hope Karnataka people will not give any split verdict in future. Otherwise, we will be entertained with more Kar'nataka' political soap operas, which is not a good sign in a vibrant democracy like ours. Neither it's good for Karnataka which is home to India's Silicon Valley in Bengaluru.

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