Being a minority chief minister of a coalition government can be emotionally taxing. Karnataka’s head of state, HD Kumaraswamy, bared his soul to JD(S) workers on 15 July at an internal party function. Wiping his tears, he said haltingly:
You are standing here, with bouquets to welcome me. One of your brothers has become chief minister and you all are happy. But I’m not. I know the pain of the coalition government. I became Vishkanth ( Lord Shiva) and swallowed the pain of this government.
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Forty-eight hours after HD Kumaraswamy wiped away tears with a bright red hand towel on national television, Union Minister Arun Jaitley asked: What if the Prime Minister of a coalition government cried like that?
His reference is to the proposed grand alliance against the BJP for 2019. Despite his tears giving the BJP ammunition against the Congress party, Karnataka congress leaders have been surprisingly tolerant to Kumaraswamy’s statements, at least in public.
‘Fictional Alternative is Far from Stability’: Jaitley
In a note on Facebook, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley wrote: “Listening to these statements of an Honourable Chief Minister, my memory took me back to the dialogues of the tragedy era of Hindi cinema. If this is the consequence of a two-party coalition, what is it that a disparate group of parties with no ideological similarity offers to India?”
Calling the proposed alliance ‘a fictional alternative’, Jaitley wrote that the alternative has a group of disparate political parties with leaders who are temperamental and change ideological positions frequently. Citing the JD(S) among the examples, he said for these ‘ideologically flexible political groups’, ‘stable politics is far from their political track record’.
A federal front is a failed idea. It was experimented under Shri Charan Singh, Shri Chandrasekhar and by the United Front Government between 1996-98. Such a front with its contradictions, sooner or later, loses its balance and equilibrium.Arun Jaitley
'Be Brave’: Congress’ Advice to HDK
Despite Arun Jaitley’s stinging blog, the Congress is being more tolerant to HDK than expected.
Even though Kumaraswamy’s statement dents the image of a united opposition for 2019, which is still a work in progress, no Congress leaders have countered him so far. If anything, state leaders have been in damage control.
Senior Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge even advised the Karnataka Chief Minister to keep his chin up and told to him to be brave.
"Running a coalition government is always a problem and all one can do is face them… Kumaraswamy should be courageous to face such circumstances. He has to fulfil the desire of the people," he said.
Newly appointed Karnataka Congress President Dinesh Gundu Rao gave a different spin to the controversy, claiming the perils of the coalition Kumaraswamy mentioned were the attacks from the BJP.
“Mr Kumaraswamy’s statement is not just on the coalition, but on the way negativity is being spread by the BJP and its communal forces. They have been attacking elected representatives in demeaning manner with campaigns like ‘Kumaraswamy is not my CM’. So, it was a human expression of his anguish,” Gundu Rao said on Thursday.
According to Congress leaders, their surprising tolerance is due to the fact that the Congress-JD(S) alliance is looked at as a blueprint for a united opposition front for 2019.
Impunity Leading to Friction?
As for the JD(S), the party justified Kumaraswamy’s emotional outburst as a sign of frustration with having to work with a difficult coalition partner.
A senior JD(S) leader explained how the Congress was not allowing HDK to perform his duties peacefully.
“When Kumaranna (as Kumaraswamy is informally referred to) said it is tough to be the Chief Minister of a coalition, all hell breaks loose. But a former chief minister (Siddaramaiah) gets away by saying the coalition government won’t last,” he said.
“Apart from objecting to a fresh budget, the Congress party has pressured Kumaraswamy to reverse his decisions to hike fuel taxes and to reduce the amount of free rice provided under Annabhagya from 7kg to 5kg. He made those changes to raise funds for the farm loan waiver. He did something Congress leaders thought was impossible,” the leader said.
Kumaraswamy has a direct line to the Congress President, who for all practical purposes, has given him a free hand as far governance is concerned.
Drama or Political Game?
Since Kumaraswamy’s teary speech, there have been several takes on it within political circles. Many dismissed the speech as just another episode of drama from the Gowda family.
“This is not the first time the father and son have played such drama, just that it spiralled into a national political controversy this time,” said a senior Congress leader.
While according to some others, Kumaraswamy’s ‘victim card’ is his insurance policy for if and when the coalition breaks after the general election.
For now, the Congress is not allowing a political digression in Karnataka to come in the way of its national ambitions for 2019.