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OPINION | After Karnataka Battle, ‘Victor’ Yeddyurappa Struggles to Stay Afloat But ‘Vanquished’ Siddaramaiah Cruises On

BS Yeddyurappa can’t take the Chief Minister’s chair despite his party falling just nine seats short of a simple majority. And Siddaramaiah gets to remain a power player as leader of the Congress Legislature Party.

Veeraraghav T M | TMVraghav

Updated:May 20, 2018, 11:32 AM IST
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OPINION | After Karnataka Battle, ‘Victor’ Yeddyurappa Struggles to Stay Afloat But ‘Vanquished’ Siddaramaiah Cruises On
BS Yeddyurappa speaks on the floor of the Karnataka Assembly before announcing his resignation without a trust vote on Saturday. (PTI)
Election narratives are often about the winner taking it all and the loser getting nothing. But in the convoluted contours of a hung Assembly in Karnataka, the script seems to have been reversed.

BS Yeddyurappa, the Shikaripura strongman who has fought his way back aged 75, can’t take the Chief Minister’s chair despite his party falling just nine seats short of a simple majority. And Siddaramaiah gets to remain a power player in the Congress, as leader of the Congress Legislature Party, despite his party falling to just 78 seats and his personal humiliation of a defeat in the Chamundeshwari seat by a margin of over 30,000 votes.

Siddaramaiah’s case is a rare narrative in the Congress party where regional satraps are often left out in the cold after a drubbing. The fact that Siddaramaiah was elected as Congress Legislature Party leader unanimously is telling.

His election was unanimous despite the fact that he has an image of being arrogant and not a leader who accommodated traditional Congressmen from the state. Through his five years as Chief Minister, he was at loggerheads with Congress old-timers and the old guard in the party had taunted him as an “outsider”.

In fact, soon after the results, daggers were out for him, but eventually he was elected as Congress Legislature Party leader unanimously.

His election must be seen as a categorical message from Rahul Gandhi and the party high command that they do not want any infighting at this stage and are keen to ensure that the party remains firmly in charge of itself in Karnataka.

It is also a signal that the Congress wants to reassert that it may be beaten but not bruised in Karnataka. In terms of popular vote share, the Congress, led by Siddaramaiah scored 38 percent. Humiliating him or completely sidelining him would only suggest that the party concedes a defeat.

While Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee State Congress Committee president G Parameshwara, a Dalit leader, is likely to become Deputy Chief Minister, Siddaramaiah as Congress Legislature Party leader means the party is keen to have him play a crucial role on the floor of the House.

This is interesting as Siddaramaiah’s rivalry with HD Deve Gowda and the JD(S) is well known and it has been the focal point of his politics since he quit the party to join the Congress in 2006. This is why how the alliance shapes up on the floor of the House with Siddaramaiah in charge of the Congress would be keenly observed.

He also has strong personal relationships in the JD(S) and is known for his floor management and oratorical skills. Giving him the Congress Legislatue Party leader’s role suggests that the grand old party is keen to ensure he has the platform to protect the party’s identity and not become buried under the JD(S).

This is extremely important for the Congress in the long run as it is now playing second fiddle to the JD(S) despite having almost twice the seats that the latter has.

His presence would also be a counter pressure to the JD(S) and the Congress is keen to send out the message that it hasn’t fallen completely to the JD(S) despite conceding the Chief Minister’s post to HD Kumaraswamy.

Certainly, he will not have the hold he had earlier, but he gets to hang in there and that’s a huge boost for a politician after a crushing defeat. How it plays out will depend on how the Congress–JD(S) alliance shapes up in the coming months.

On the other hand, Yeddyurappa will have an uncertain period. The facts that the BJP doesn’t have the numbers and that the JD(S) and Congress are desperate to hold on to power could mean that Yeddyurappa may have to wait a long time.

Further, it is a known fact that there are senior BJP leaders who are not too keen to see Yeddyurappa in charge. He has had enough fights and rivalries within the party and those leaders would not put their heart into keeping him in power. This is a huge negative when the numbers aren’t on one’s side.

The BJP is keen to focus on the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and would not want any move that would destroy the sympathy that it hopes to create by being the victim. That sympathy factor hinges on the narrative of being a party that won 104 seats but was kept away from power by an “opportunistic’ alliance.

If the party’s strategy is to keep the ‘victim’ narrative alive till the Lok Sabha elections, then Yeddyurappa may have an uncertain future.

However, given the Governor’s controversial decision to swear in BS Yeddyurappa first, it’s not clear if the BJP will remain silent for too long. Much will depend on how the BJP plays its cards over a period of time and how the Congress and JD(S) work their equations.

Coalition governments, especially ones formed out of desperation to remain in power, are bound to have serious issues, but that very desperation to remain in power keeps them going.

Nothing can be taken for granted after a fractured mandate and the political equations will be fluid. But for the moment, it seems like Yeddyurappa is the one sulking, Siddaramaiah is the one staying afloat, and Kumaraswamy and Deve Gowda are the ones having the last laugh.

The author is a senior journalist. Views are personal.

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| Edited by: Nitya Thirumalai
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