In 2006, Deve Gowda almost expelled Kumaraswamy for going with the BJP. But with scorned ex-protege Siddaramaiah leading the Congress, a deadlock looms.
Bengaluru: The exit polls in Karnataka are inconclusive – four of the six broadcast on English news channels Saturday gave the BJP a slight edge, others the Congress. But what most of them have predicted is that H.D. Deve Gowda’s Janata Dal (Secular) may turn out to be the kingmaker, with anywhere between 22 to 43 seats.
The role of the JD(S) in Karnataka politics has been intriguing. There was a time when former Prime Minister Deve Gowda used to complain that there were “unseen” forces working against him. But for the second time in the last decade and a half, the JD(S) has itself become that ‘unseen force’, which may possess just about enough strength to make or break a government.
The turbulent mid-2000s
In the 2004 elections, the Congress performed poorly, winning just 65 seats, while the JD(S) won 58. Deve Gowda didn’t want to back the incumbent S.M. Krishna or Mallikarjun Kharge, finally deciding to support Dharam Singh as chief minister. Then-Deve Gowda loyalist Siddaramaiah was named deputy CM.
Dharam Singh’s year-and-245-day reign was turbulent, as Deve Gowda’s son H.D. Kumaraswamy began backdoor dealings with the BJP’s B.S. Yeddyurappa. The BJP, which was the single largest party with 79 seats, was desperate to form its first government in the south, but even the party’s ‘high command’ L.K. Advani reportedly didn’t know what Yeddyurappa and Kumaraswamy were up to.
A 40-month formula was worked out in 2006, and Kumaraswamy became chief minister in 2006, at the head of what was popularly called the ‘20-20’ government. Yeddyurappa was to be his deputy CM, and 20 months later, they would swap.
Deve Gowda was kept in the dark, and was incensed. When Kumaraswamy withdrew support from the Dharam Singh government, Deve Gowda shot off a letter to the then-governor T.N. Chaturvedi, saying that “no credence should be given to the letter submitted by a section of MLAs from the party withdrawing support”. Kumaraswamy called his act “a way to avoid a constitutional crisis”, but it brewed trouble between father and son.
Deve Gowda refused to meet Kumaraswamy, or attend his swearing-in ceremony. He had told this reporter at that time: “I made it very clear to him that I will not compromise with my principles. I asked him not to force me to accept the decision that he has taken. I have communicated to him that he can go his way and I, mine.”
At the party’s national executive in Delhi, Deve Gowda even mooted the idea of expelling Kumaraswamy and the 41 rebel MLAs who “flouted” the party’s principles by aligning with a “communal” party like the BJP. But no decision was taken then.
The ambitious Kumaraswamy presided over the state till 2007, and then decided not to honour the deal, forcing the BJP to break the rag-tag alliance. A month later, they patched up, only to last a week under Yeddyurappa’s chief ministership.
Here and now
Fast forward to 2018. The political situation in Karnataka seems similar to 2004. Deve Gowda has come out and said he will “disown” Kumaraswamy if he aligns with the BJP again. Kumaraswamy has campaigned around the state saying he made a “mistake” in 2006, which he won’t repeat, only to add that he “will align with any party that falls in line with the JD(S) principles”.
But there’s one big difference this time – Siddaramaiah. Once a Deve Gowda loyalist, he was removed from his post as deputy CM and cast out of the party in 2005. Till date, Siddaramaiah nurses a deep hurt because of this.
And so emerges the big question – if indeed there’s a hung assembly, will Deve Gowda, Kumaraswamy and Siddaramaiah put their egos aside and form a coalition? Or will Kumaraswamy go against his father again and look at the possibility of aligning with the BJP?