Even as the Congress and the BJP are fighting it out to snatch victory in the impending high-prestige Assembly elections in Karnataka, there is a third force which could play a crucial role in the event of a hung assembly. It is indeed not inconceivable at all that neither party may get an absolute majority. The balancing force could well be the Janata Dal (Secular) led by former prime minister Deve Gowda and piloted by his son H D Kumaraswamy who is a former chief minister of the State. The JD(S) has tasted power in the State riding on the shoulders of the Congress and the BJP at different times. It could well repeat the performance this time around, hitching on to the bandwagon of either party that is on the threshold of power. Kumaraswamy is a hard bargainer who is known to extract his pound of flesh.
Both the Congress and the BJP are groping for allies in Karnataka for poll tie-ups. But the JD(S) has already stitched up alliances with the Nationalist Congress party (NCP) led by the redoubtable Sharad Pawar and with the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) of UP’s Mayawati. It is negotiating with the CPI(M) and the Communist Party of India and there is every chance that it would sew up an alliance with the two jointly. These are not parties that would add much to the numbers of the Third Front but their presence would bolster JD(S)’s bargaining strength. The JD(U) is already in alliance with the Left in Kerala. In the 2013 Assembly polls the JD(U) had bagged 40 seats with a vote share of 20.45 per cent This time, it has agreed to support the NCP in five to seven seats which had drawn a blank fighting on its own with a vote share of 0.59 per cent. The BSP and Left’s share is yet to be determined but would not amount to much. All said and done, these bit alliances would make no appreciable difference to the JD(U)’s performance.
The JD(S) had formed an alliance with the Congress in 2015 to keep the BJP out of Bengaluru’s civic body. The party also has an alliance with the BJP in the Karnataka legislative council. Considering that in 2004, the Congress had formed a government with the support of JD(S) in the Assembly which later withdrew support in favour of the BJP, the JD(S) has no qualms about sticking to either the Congress or the BJP if the other side makes a more attractive offer. Kumaraswamy is no paragon of honesty, but in these days of opportunistic politics that matters little. It would be interesting to see which way the people’s verdict in Karnataka goes. While current chief minister Siddharamaiah’s Congress government has been far from clean, BJP challenger Yeddyurappa had spent time in jail on allegations of corruption.