While the Governor’s final decision to invite Kumaraswamy to form a government could take time, there would be no dearth of attempts to nullify efforts by the Congress and the JD(S) to come to power. The Karnataka assembly results have thrown up a mandate for the BJP with a sound beating for the Congress but with the latter pledging support to Janata Dal(S) leader H D Kumaraswamy to form a government with its help, it is politics at its unprincipled worst.
While the BJP is by far the single largest party, the Congress, in conjunction with the JD(S), is the one to stake claim first since their numbers add up to the magic figure that is required for leading the government. All eyes are now on the Governor, Vajubhai Vala, who is keeping his cards close to the chest.
Significantly, in Goa and then in Manipur it was the Congress that had higher numbers in Assembly elections but it was the BJP that had the last laugh and formed governments with support of smaller parties and independents. This is a convenient example for the Congress to cite whereby the subversion of the electoral mandate in Karnataka can be explained away.
There is bad blood all around and the BJP’s initial celebrations now look severely misplaced and odd. The infirmities of the Indian form of democracy are in sharp focus and the subversion of a people’s mandate now appears stark.
Kumaraswamy has never been known to have any great moral standards or scruples. His power hunger has been all too evident in the past too. He had been making no bones of his blind pursuit of power not by words but through actions and the offer of chief ministership in a coalition with the Congress was not something he could resist.
If the people who thought they were voting the BJP as an alternative to the Congress were disappointed and disgusted so be it—Kumaraswamy did not think he was obliged to live up to their moral expectations. But there is no doubt that it has been an uphill task for the BJP to gain ground over the Congress and that all through the campaign the BJP was soft on the JD(S) on the stipulation that the Kumaraswamy-led party would conform to the tacit understanding between them.
The dramatic courtesy call by Modi on Kumaraswamy’s father and former prime minister Deve Gowda, through which he believed he had won him over, proved to be a clever ruse by the redoubtable Gowda. Blood is thicker than water and when Kumaraswamy met him after the poll results, the octogenarian could not but give in to the prospect of his son being chief minister again.
Be that as it may, the BJP performance in the polls cannot be brushed aside as inconsequential. It was the result of Modi’s charismatic personality and powerful oratory combined with the superior organizational skills of party president Amit Shah.
From a position where the Congress seemed to be walking away with the mantle as early opinion polls before Modi’s rallies showed, there was a sea change when Modi unleashed his masterly blitzkrieg. By contrast, for the Congress, its mascot Rahul Gandhi was a disaster as much as on many occasions earlier.
Chief Minister Siddaramaiah used every stratagem including identity politics through a separate flag for Karnataka, an attempt to paint the non-Kanadigas as intrusive outsiders, of announcing the powerful Lingayat caste as a religion separate from Hinduism, among others but apparently, his maladministration and the corruption under his regime were too much for him to explain.
Manifest in this election was the appalling absence of crowd-pullers on both sides with the exception of Narendra Modi in the BJP and Siddaramaiah in the Congress. Rahul’s crowds were artificially created but there was no chemistry between the Congress president and them.
Mrs Sonia Gandhi addressed just one rally and in that, all she did was to run down her arch-foe, Modi. There was no serious attempt to showcase what the Siddaramaiah government had done during its term in office nor any credible blueprint for action in the future. Senior ex-ministers at the Centre either did not come to campaign or made no impact on the masses.
There was anti-incumbency against the State government but the Siddaramaiah government was not ready to combat it or even recognise it because it was cocooned in a sense of arrogance and complacency.
With a manipulative Amit Shah at the helm of the party, there is a huge question mark over the durability of any arrangement that may be worked out by the Congress and the JD(S) to grab power. A formal split requires one-third of a party’s legislators to quit a party which is no easy task, but with power being dangled, it is not an impossibility to achieve especially when there are attractive baits held out.
For the Congress, staying in power in Karnataka even as a junior partner in a coalition would be a major boost in its efforts to convince other parties to stay on its side in the pre-Lok Sabha political battles. But convincing them to acquiesce in Rahul Gandhi as the leader of the joint opposition would be quite another matter.
With his poor performance at the head of the Congress party and his lack of pulling power as compared to Modi there would be few takers for him.
The BJP, too, would have to re-orient its strategy to win new friends and to retain old friends in the run-up to the general elections.
The writer is a political commentator and columnist. He has authored four books.