Alliances of sorts

Print edition : June 08, 2018

Bitter political foes, H.D. Kumaraswamy of the Janata Dal (Secular) and Siddaramaiah, the outgoing Congress Chief Minister, have turned allies to prevent the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) from coming to power in Karnataka. In 2004, under similar circumstances, when no party secured a majority in the Assembly elections, the Congress and the JD(S) came together to form the government. The political flip-flops that followed, with Kumaraswamy at the centre of it, need to be revisited as the purpose of the two coalitions is the same.

Kumaraswamy has welcomed the idea of working with Siddaramaiah, who has been elected as the Leader of the Congress Legislative Party. The two politicians hail from Old Mysuru and vie for the support of the same social groups—the backward classes, minorities and Dalits—apart from that of the dominant Vokkaliga and Lingayat communities.

The post-election alliance between the two parties in 2004 turned disastrous. According to a senior JD(S) politician, the Congress-JD(S) government “was arguably the worst administration the State ever had”.

It was a long-standing rivalry between Kumaraswamy and Siddaramaiah that in August 2005 resulted in the expulsion of Siddaramaiah from the JD(S). Siddaramaiah was Deputy Chief Minister in the Congress-JD(S) coalition government headed by Congress Chief Minister Dharam Singh. In a dramatic turn of events, a JD(S) faction led by Kumaraswamy withdrew support to the Congress in January 2006. It subsequently aligned with the BJP, giving the saffron party its first taste of power in Karnataka. Kumaraswamy’s move helped him become the Chief Minister, but it was political suicide as it alienated the JD(S) from its traditional voters. The party is yet to recover from the loss. Kumaraswamy enjoyed power for 20 months before he dumped the BJP in 2007 refusing to transfer power to Deputy Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa under an arrangement agreed upon earlier. In the 2008 elections, the JD(S) won 28 seats compared with 58 in 2004.

The JD(S) was in the political wilderness in the past decade with little influence outside southern Karnataka, where the Vokkaliga community, to which Kumaraswamy belongs, is in a majority.

In order to woo back minority voters and enlist the support of Dalits for the May 2018 elections, JD(S) supremo and former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda entered into an electoral alliance with Asaduddin Owaisi of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen and Mayawati of the Bahujan Samaj Party.

All eyes are now on Deve Gowda. In 2004, he was accused of choosing the more pliable Dharam Singh over Mallikarjuna Kharge, the Congress’ other nominee, to head the coalition government. In fact, it is said that Deve Gowda ruled by proxy. Many JD(S) legislators, including Ministers, felt suffocated. No common minimum programme was discussed and files pertaining to JD(S) Ministers did not move. The Congress then viewed the tie-up as a politically expedient situation to keep the BJP out. Many senior Congress Ministers were against continuing the coalition.

When the Congress won 15 of the 27 zilla panchayats in December 2005, it was emboldened enough to consider walking out of the alliance. The Congress decision to ally with Siddaramaiah, who had been expelled from the JD(S) and whose presence in the local body elections had harmed the prospects of the JD(S), almost broke the coalition. Deve Gowda announced that he would “very soon” take a decision on the fate of the coalition. But Kumaraswamy, along with 38 JD(S) legislators, revolted, and putting all ideological concerns aside, aligned with the BJP.

Although the JD(S) considers the Congress a lesser evil than the BJP and opposes the saffron policies of the BJP, Kumaraswamy’s failure to honour a power-sharing agreement with the BJP placed it in a poor light. Within three months of government formation, the BJP’s Bellary unit, led by the controversial mining baron G. Janardhan Reddy, disclosed “evidence” in the form of video recordings showing C. Chennigappa, Environment Minister and close confidant of Kumaraswamy, allegedly collecting slush money from mine owners. This shook the coalition, and allegations of corruption were levelled against Kumaraswamy, his brother H.D. Revanna, and other members of the Gowda family. As a result, the JD(S) was forced to toe a soft line, despite the fact that it held the Home portfolio, when communal riots broke out in Mangaluru and when Sangh Parivar outfits, defying a ban, conducted rituals near the disputed Sufi shrine at Baba Budangiri in Chikkamagaluru district. The BJP’s refusal to support a piece of legislation for the takeover of the controversial Bangalore-Mysore Infrastructure Corridor expressway project promoted by Ashok Kheny’s Nandi Infrastructure Corridor Enterprises, angered Deve Gowda.

It was obvious to the BJP by September 2007 that Deve Gowda, who had by then taken back the reins of the JD(S), had no intention of handing over the mantle of chief ministership to the BJP. The proverbial last straw was when Tourism Minister B. Sriramulu filed a criminal complaint in the Cowl Bazar police station of Bellary (now Ballari) accusing Kumaraswamy of abetting a conspiracy to murder him. A first information report was registered against Kumaraswamy. The BJP saw as maleficent Kumaraswamy’s refusal to hand over power. This led to the BJP withdrawing support to the JD(S). Deve Gowda pleaded with the Congress to prop up the minority JD(S) government, but the Congress was unwilling. Kumaraswamy submitted his resignation in October 2007. In the May 2008 Assembly elections, the BJP emerged as the single largest party, riding the crest of a sympathy wave. The BJP adopted a strategy codenamed “Operation Lotus” to unscrupulously poach independent and rival party legislators to secure a majority in the Assembly.

Often derided as the Appa Makkala Paksha (father and sons party), the JD(S) is still seen as a social democratic party. Kumaraswamy, has, however, told Frontline on numerous occasions that there was nothing like ideology in any political party, only the desire to stay in power.

The JD(S) was formed by Deve Gowda in 1999 when a Janata Dal faction led by Chief Minister J.H. Patel supported the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance at the Centre. The Deve Gowda faction adopted the label “Secular” to differentiate it from other rumps of the erstwhile Janata Party. Both the factions, and others such as the Lok Dal, the now-defunct All India Progressive Janata Dal (which Siddaramaiah revived in 2005), are all avatars of the Janata Party, which was formed under the guidance of Jayaprakash Narayan in 1977, as a political vehicle meant to unite all anti-Congress parties that were fighting the autocratic rule of Indira Gandhi. While the Janata Party ruled Karnataka between 1983 and 1985 and between 1985 and 1989, the Janata Dal came to power in 1994.

Ravi Sharma

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