Karnataka is headed for a spell of political instability as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) emerged the single-largest party with 104 seats after the just-concluded Assembly elections, but could not reach the halfway mark of 112. The Congress, with 78 seats, acted with swiftness and agility, contacted the H D Deve Gowda-led Janata Dal (Secular), or JD(S), with 38 seats, offered the smaller party chief ministership and stitched up an agreement to forestall an understanding between the JD(S) and the BJP.
At the time of filing this report, Karnataka Governor Vajubhai Vala had remained non-committal on the claims of the parties, asking them to wait until the official tally is declared. Constitutional experts said the Governor was not obligated to call the single-largest party for a first stab at forming a government though the majority must be tested on the floor of the House.
As was widely expected, while the BJP emerged single-largest, it was the JD(S) which turned kingmaker, helping the Congress keep power in a crucial southern state. The BJP’s jubilant mood, when the initial results first poured in, turned to gloom as it became clear that the halfway mark was going to elude it. A scheduled press conference by party President Amit Shah was called off, a lunch party organised at the BJP headquarters was cancelled and drum players, who had congregated at the headquarters in Delhi, were asked to go home in a matter of hours. Bouquets of flower lay piled up forlornly at the headquarters, testifying to the disappointment of workers.
It was clear from initial reactions in Bengaluru and Delhi that the BJP was not interested in tying up with the JD(S) to form a government at any cost. The Congress, which had indicated on Monday that it was ready to be flexible about the top job (with former chief minister (CM) Siddaramaiah announcing that he was ready to accept a Dalit CM) got top leader Sonia Gandhi to call Gowda and persuade his son Kumaraswamy to become CM with the Congress’ backing to keep the BJP out. Although the JD(S) has roughly half the number of seats the Congress has, it grabbed the offer of chief ministership eagerly.
The BJP claimed it had the mandate to form the government. But the Congress and the JD(S), which together have a few seats more than the saffron party, retorted that they had got the mandate to prevent the BJP from forming a government. In a sense, the Congress did a BJP on the BJP. In Goa, Meghalaya, and Manipur elections in 2017, the BJP tied up with smaller parties and Independents under the nose of the Congress, though the party was single-largest, and managed to form a government, snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. “The Supreme Court ruled in the case of Goa, Meghalaya, and Manipur that a single-largest party does not automatically qualify to form the government,” Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad said in defence of the Congress-JD(S) claim to form a government.
“Today we have the numbers. So, we went to the Governor to stake claim to form the government. Tomorrow is another day,” said Congress leader and Member of Parliament (MP) Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge. Congress President Rahul Gandhi was largely absent from the scene and senior leaders like Azad handled the negotiation with Gowda.
All the JD(S) MLAs are likely to be spirited away to neighbouring Kerala where a left Front government is in power to prevent lures from the BJP.
Although the chances are that a JD(S)-Congress alliance government will assume power in Bengaluru, how it will work is another matter altogether. “If Gowda gets more than 25 seats, the tail will wag the dog,” a senior Congress leader had said before the results came out. The JD(S)’s demands and how the Congress will accommodate them remains a matter of concern for many senior Congress leaders.
The result saw the total and comprehensive emasculation of Siddaramaiah: Not only did he lose the Chamundeswari seat by more than 30,000 votes, he won Badami by just around 1,600 votes against the BJP MP from Bellary, B Sriramulu. This, despite the fact that his constituency had a large number of minority voters as well voters from his own caste, Kuruba. Siddaramaiah will now face the double humiliation of helping to put in the top job, the very man against whom he had rebelled and quit the JD(S) in 2005, having been expelled for anti-party activities.
*JD(S) and BSP had a pre-poll alliance
** Others include Karnataka Pragnyavantha Janatha Party’s R Shankar from Ranebennuru constituency, and Congress-backed Mulbagal constituency winner H Nagesh
***Elections were held on 222 of 224-seats. Elections to the remaining two seats will take place on May 28
Source: Election Commission of India