Bengaluru: The shaky Congress-JD(S) coalition government in Karnataka is set for another litmus test — this time on 23 May, the day of the Lok Sabha election results.
The two parties have been in an uneasy coalition and their leaders told ThePrint that the future of the alliance will depend on the number of seats they win in the Lok Sabha elections in the state.
JD(S) insiders said if the coalition doesn’t get 10-12 seats, then there will be a looming threat of the H.D. Kumaraswamy government toppling. Karnataka has 28 Lok Sabha seats.
“We are very confident that together we will get close to 12 to 13 seats. But if we don’t and end up in single digits, things may turn ugly,” said a senior JD(S) leader who did not want to be named.
“If the BJP comes to power at the Centre, then its state unit will go on a rampage to poach as many leaders as possible.”
The mood in the Congress appears to be no better.
“It’s a tug of war with the JD(S) and Congress at either end. We only hope it doesn’t snap,” said a senior Congress leader on the condition of anonymity. “But the Congress will not pull out of this government as the party will not want to carry the image of being the one that brought a government down.”
The constant squabbling between the two parties has only intensified in the past month.
This week saw a spat between JD(S) state president H. Vishwanath and former chief minister and Congress veteran Siddaramaiah. It began Sunday, when Vishwanath appeared to play down Siddaramaiah’s tenure as chief minister.
“What is so special (about Siddaramaiah rule), was his administration greater than Devraj Urs’? People remember Devraj Urs even today after 30 years,” Vishwanath had said Sunday. “What great administration happened (during Siddaramaiah) to remember it for decades? What major developmental work happened? Nothing.”
Siddaramaiah responded by tweeting that he would “raise the jealous statement by Vishwanath” in the alliance’s coordination committee, adding that “coalition dharma” was preventing him from speaking openly on the remarks.
Sources in the JD(S) told ThePrint that though Vishwanath has not been asked to apologise, the party leadership has told him to lie low till 23 May.
The flare-up was followed by Kumaraswamy taking an apparent dig at Siddaramaiah, stating that senior Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge should have been made the chief minister years ago. Siddaramaiah responded saying Kumaraswamy’s elder brother, PWD minister H.D. Revanna, was also eligible for the chief ministerial post.
On record, however, leaders of both parties maintain that there are no cracks in the coalition.
“We are in government but we should be careful of our opposition’s strategies too,” said senior JD(S) leader Y.S.V. Datta. “As of now their (BJP) efforts through Operation Kamala has failed. After the results on 23 May, they will try to hurt us but we are a strong force together.”
“The alliance is confident of getting a majority of the 28 seats,” said Congress leader Naseer Hussain. “After the final results in the country, we are sure that the dreams of Modi, Amit Shah and Yeddyurappa will come crashing down.”
But Karnataka Congress president Dinesh Gundu Rao conceded that it wasn’t all rosy in the coalition.
“We will tell our leaders not to make any comments or react. After 23 May, we will sit down with the JD(S) and discuss how we can coordinate better,” he said. “They too need to rein in their leaders for the smooth functioning of the government. While we are confident of good results on counting day, the final overall results in the Centre will also have its effect on the state.”
Strains of a poll fight
Many within the Congress argue that the alliance has been a burden on the party in these Lok Sabha elections. A senior Congress leader quoted the example of Mandya.
The JD(S) insisted on being allotted the seat as part of the seat-sharing formula. But that has resulted in the sure seat for the Congress throwing up a bitter battle between the Independent Sumalatha, the widow of former Congress leader late M.H. Ambareesh, and the chief minister’s son, Nikhil Kumaraswamy.
“Decisions taken for the seats of Mandya and Tumkur may cost us,” said another senior Congress leader. “The JD(S) may get about two to three seats.”
Tumkur, a Congress bastion, was handed over to the JD(S), which fielded former Prime Minister Deve Gowda here.
Another factor that would decide the fate of the troubled JD(S)-Congress coalition is the by-elections that are to be held at Kundgol and Chincholi Assembly constituencies Sunday.
Both seats were earlier held by the Congress. If the Congress loses them to the BJP, the latter’s tally will rise to 106 from 104 in the 224-member assembly, giving it more room to negotiate with disgruntled Congress MLAs who would want to switch over.