Only optics in Karnataka

Predictably, the jockeying for various posts and ministries between foes-turned-allies overnight to share the spoils of power has begun in right earnest in Karnataka. The smaller partner which has got away with the plum post of chief minister is bound to call the shots. The Chief Minister-designate H D Kumaraswamy, who did the obligatory rounds of paying obeisance at the 10 Janpath durbar and also met the BSP leader Mayawati in Delhi, has promised the Speaker’s post and deputy chief minister’s position to the partner twice its size.

That was only to be expected. But this has not stopped the claims and counter-claims over the loaves and fishes of office. This is not unexpected. Once elected, most legislators crave for ministerships. In fact, Kumaraswamy’s own elder brother, H D Revanna, has staked claim for a key ministry. He nurses a grievance against his father, H D Deve Gowda, the former prime minister, for his naming Kumaraswamy for chief ministership. This will be the third time Kumaraswamy will be heading the Karnataka Government. However, it is hard to say how long this shotgun alliance will last, given the internal contradictions and bitter rivalries. Indeed, senior Congress leader and an important minister in the Siddaramaiah Government, D K Shivkumar, has minced no words, publicly confessing that it was an unnatural marriage which had to be solemnised at the specific bidding of the party’s central leadership. In other words, the Karnataka arrangement has few takers in the Karnataka Congress.

Shivkumar, who was entrusted the task of keeping the newly-elected flock of party MLAs, and he seemed to have done a good job of it, herding them in his own luxury resort, evokes so much of antipathy in the JD(S) that the latter was reluctant to accommodate him in the new ministry. It is because Shivkumar is the foremost Congress leader belonging to the Gowda caste challenging the JD(S)’s Gowdas’ hold over the community. Also, Shivkumar has never made any bones about his own chief ministerial ambitions. Given that the Congress in its desperation to deny the BJP power has surrendered the top post  to the JD(S), the latter’s patriarch felt constrained to intervene to ensure that Shivkumar is made a minister, though his sons have been all along hostile towards him.

Meanwhile, Kumaraswamy’s swearing-in on Wednesday is sought to be turned into a show of Opposition unity with several regional leaders arrayed against the BJP expected to be present. Such optics, however, cannot hide the irreconcilable differences and clash of contending ambitions. Sooner than later, the artificial euphoria created by the Karnataka manoeuvre is set to give way to the hard realities. It is, however, good to see the Gandhis, who had all along behaved as if the prime ministerial post was reserved for them and them alone, forced to eat the humble pie.

From his dalliance with akela chalo early on in his political career — he hasn’t had any other career — Rahul has now come a long way, playing second fiddle to a regional party which is actually a sub-regional party confined to the Mysore region whereas elsewhere in the State scores of its candidates forfeited deposits. Meanwhile, BJP leader Amit Shah’s first post-poll remarks in the capital on Monday indicate that he still entertains hope of claiming power in Karnataka sooner than later.

Denying the charge of horse-trading, and pointing out  how the so-called audio tape cited by the Congress was debunked as fake by the party’s own MLA whose wife was supposed to be speaking on the said tape, Shah laconically commented that buying up the entire ‘store by dangling chief ministership’ is the biggest horse-trading.  Given the precarious numbers in the new House, stability will elude the shotgun JD(S)-Congress alliance of convenience. Though it failed to muster a handful of MLAs to prove its majority, thanks to the anti-defection law, a dozen members joining the 104 already with the party would make for better stability  than separate entities of 37 and 78 each can ever do. The onus to keep the Kumaraswamy ministry alive lies with the new friends of convenience. We will keep our fingers firmly crossed.

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