Karnataka: Battle on All Fronts for Congress as JD(S)-BJP Get Cosy
In the run-up to the Rajya Sabha elections, the Janata Dal (Secular) tried every trick in the book to get its candidate, BM Farook, elected to the Upper House of Parliament. The JDS needed 44 MLAs for this task, but it had only 30.
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By mid-March, a desperate JD(S) approached the Congress, their last resort. When the request was turned down, they threatened to withdraw support from the BBMP, which they jointly rule.
But the Congress stood their ground and refused to lend support. This was among the latest signs from the Congress that they are just not interested in a partnership with the JD(S) ahead of the Assembly polls.
While a post-poll coalition remains a dynamic decision, according to party insiders, the Congress high command is aware of the JD(S) getting close to the BJP. Even though some Congress leaders want to keep channels open for future collaborations, Siddaramaiah, who is a former JD(S) man, wants to take on the JD(S).
Why Take on JD(S) so Late in the Campaign?
“JD(S) is BJP’s B Team,” Congress President Rahul Gandhi’s direct attack on the JD(S) in the old Mysuru, on 23 March 2018, came several months after the Congress party began its campaign in the state. According to sources, this statement was a prepared one than an extempore.
So why take on the JD(S) so late in the campaign?
The Congress high-command, over past few weeks, has received signals about JD(S)’ decision to the go with BJP, in case of a hung Assembly. BJP’s chief ministerial candidate, BS Yeddyurappa’s refusal to speak against the JD(S) in an interview gave these signals more credibility.
Also, until now, the Congress had been campaigning in north Karnataka and coastal Karnataka, where the BJP is their main opponent. As the party’s campaign moves to Old Mysuru, JD(S) assumes the main opponent’s role. So, with a hope of gaining more seats from Old Mysuru, the Congress is going all out against the JD(S), instead of playing safe in hope of a coalition.
Congress Gunning for JDU’s Share of Muslim Votes
While the dominant Vokkaliagas in Old Mysure lean towards the Deve Gowda led JD(S), votes from the Muslim community are the Congress’ biggest bank in this part of the state. However, the Muslim votes in the Old Mysuru are divided between the Congress and the JD(S).
Senior JD(S) leaders accuse Congress of branding the JD(S) as being anti-Muslim. “By projecting JD(S) as the ‘team B’ of the BJP, a Hindutva party, the Congress is trying to take away the Muslim votes from the JD(S) in the Old Mysuru region,” said a JD(S) leader.
Also, among the JD(S) leaders poached by the Congress are senior Muslim leaders like Zameer Ahmed Khan and Iqbal Ansari.
Siddaramaiah’s Beef With the Gowda Family
Most pre-poll surveys have indicated the possibility of no party getting a majority, because of which many leaders in the Congress are in favour of keeping a channel open with the JD(S).
However, the idea was turned down by Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, sources say. Siddaramaiah proposed going all out against the JD(S) and increase the Congress’ share, rather than campaigning with a JD(S) coalition in mind. Siddaramaiah’s history with the Gowda family is said to have played a significant role in this decision.
Siddaramaiah’s career with the Congress is less than 12 years old. Before joining the party he was a senior leader in the JD(S). In 2005, following some differences between the JD(S) supremo HD Deve Gowda and his son HD Kumaraswamy, Siddaramaiah was thrown out of the party. He later joined the Congress and eventually became one of its popular faces.
“Siddaramaiah knows well that in case of a coalition with the JD(S), the Gowda family will not allow him to continue as chief minister. So, for Siddaramaiah defeating the JD(S) on their home turf is as much a personal requirement as it is a party need,” said a senior Congress leader.
Deve Gowda’s Alliance of Convenience
Even for the JD(S) leadership, joining hands with BJP is more lucrative than a partnership with the Congress. Deve Gowda strongly believes that the BJP will come to power in the Centre and they will be in need of allies in the south.
“So, instead of the getting the Income Tax (IT) Department and Enforcement Directorate (ED) unleashed on them, for supporting the Congress, he would rather settle for a deputy chief minister post in state and a ministership in the Modi government,” said a JD(S) party leader.
As the election campaign gains momentum in the state, many in the Congress and JD(S) believe that despite an alliance with Mayawati, the JD(S) will go with the BJP in case the numbers favour. Even for the BJP, despite being backstabbed by the JD(S) in 2007, they might join hands with the party.
“The BJP is in process of capturing all states and painting them saffron. The way they formed a collation in Meghalaya shows how desperate they are to achieve this goal. So, despite their past, the BJP will be keen on joining hands with the JD(S),” added the senior Congress leader.