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A Day of Contradictory Statements and Deve Gowda’s Attempt to Keep Cong-JDS Coalition Ship Sailing

Former prime minister HD Deve Gowda. (Image: PTI)

Former prime minister HD Deve Gowda. (Image: PTI)

While Janata Dal (Secular) founder HD Deve Gowda earlier on Friday told reporters that mid-term polls in the state are inevitable, he later went back on his statement to say that the coalition government would continue.

Bengaluru: Three statements in a day, all contradictory to each other, all within a span of five hours. It is perhaps only possible with the patriarch of the Janata Dal (Secular), HD Deve Gowda, a man known best for his shrewdness in politics and better for his behind-the-scenes politicking.

On Friday morning, the former Prime Minister and father of Karnataka Chief Minister HD Kumarswamy, with rare candidness, told reporters that mid-term polls in the state are inevitable. “There is no doubt about that,” he said, responding to questions.

Gowda’s statements, coming early in the day, led to a flurry of reactions from across the state, with leaders from all parties speaking out. There were JDS leaders who stated they cannot say anything against their national president, Congress leaders who rushed to defend the coalition, while BJP leaders counted the number of seats they would win if the state were to go to polls tomorrow.

Four hours later, Gowda spoke to the media again, crying foul that people were jumping to conclusions over his earlier statements.

“I’m working hard to revive the party as the local body elections are there, over the next year, elections will come up. The base we have lost, I want to build… regional parties must survive in the interest of the state,” he said.

At a JDS party meeting an hour later, Gowda told workers, “This coalition government will continue, I’m in no way related to it. I will not do anything that will damage this government. But I’m observing all that is happening. A booklet was brought out to commemorate the achievements of one year of this coalition, I was watching, only about four ministers were there.”

The comments came a day after Kumaraswamy and his deputy G Parameshwara held a joint press conference to commemorate the anniversary of the JDS-Congress coalition government. Their smiles belied the confusion in their minds well, for “confusion” is the only state that best describes this coalition – Gowda’s statements are a testimony to that.

It’s one thing to dub these as rumbles within the coalition partners, but what lies beneath the constant bickering?

Pure blackmail, say leaders in the BJP. “They are just blackmailing each other, to get better powers within the coalition,” said BJP spokesperson S Prakash.

Vivek Reddy, another spokesperson of the saffron party, said this coalition is not built for development or secularism. “It is only a coalition built on corruption,” he told News18.

The BJP feels each party is merely trying to achieve a better bargaining power within the coalition – and may not be wrong.

A Congress leader told News18 that the party has been waiting to assert itself better after the Lok Sabha elections – the party had always felt it had conceded too much to the JDS, which is the lesser partner in the coalition. The JDS has just 37 seats in the 224-member Assembly, against the Congress’ 79. The BJP, which is the single-largest party, has 105 MLAs but falls short of the numbers needed for a majority in the Assembly.

“At the time (in May 2018, after the Assembly polls), there were other compulsions. The idea was to keep the BJP out of power. So we agreed to a lot of things. But not any longer,” the Congress leader said.

It’s not the first time that the JDS president, and others in the party, have spoken out against the Congress.

“But this is the way Deve Gowda has been behaving right from the beginning – this kind of flip-flop. All his sabre-rattling is his way of dealing with the Congress on one level and keep his party cadre happy on another level,” says political analyst Professor Sandeep Shastri.

All along for the last four weeks, the JDS has felt that the Congress has played games in its (JDS) turf, that the Congress was responsible for its defeat in major constituencies like Tumkur and Mandya in the Lok Sabha elections.

Gowda, who contested the Tumkur seat, has repeatedly reminded people that he never wanted to contest from there – he had chosen Mysore, but Congress leader and former chief minister Siddaramaiah did not allow that. Gowda has also felt that the Congress has tried to blame any lacunae of this government on the JDS since it is led by Kumaraswamy.

“I told Congress to make (former MP) Mallikarjuna Kharge the chief minister. But they said no, they wanted Kumaraswamy to be chief minister,” he has often said, not very happily.

To an extent, the JDS is also worried about the party being hit the worst by an anti-incumbency sentiment, come the next election. That’s perhaps why Gowda spoke about how Congress ministers were missing from the programme to commemorate a year of the coalition government.

“It is difficult to please everyone in a coalition. The responsibility to keep the coalition going rests on both parties,” he told party workers on Friday afternoon.

In the post-Lok Sabha election scenario, the Congress trying to put its foot down on some fronts has also not gone down well with the JDS. Gowda never fails to remind people that his party “surrendered two ministerial berths to Siddaramaiah”, that two Independents were inducted into the Cabinet last week at the behest of the Congress.

Secondly, the chairperson of the State Pollution Control Board resigning to make way for a Congress MLA – K Sudhakar, who had been talking of shifting loyalties to the BJP for long – left the JDS feeling slighted again.

The Congress asserting itself as the superior partner in this coalition has left the JDS in a quandary: the latter cannot opt out of this coalition for that leaves the field open for the BJP to form a government. It doesn’t want to yield more to the Congress either, as it would be seen as a weaker party by its own cadre. The JDS wants to be seen as the party that made its sacrifices, yet refused to yield its ground.

“The JDS cannot have any more bargaining power with the Congress. Now there is no question of keeping the BJP out because the BJP has come to power at the Centre. The Congress, if it has to be dumped, may actually like to sit in the Opposition and leave the BJP to deal with legislators who will be belligerent,” said Shastri.

Karnataka is in a strange flux where everyone talks of mid-term polls but no MLA wants to go to polls. The BJP, which had been trying to poach MLAs from the JDS and the Congress for the last year, has now entirely stopped that exercise. The party is waiting for the coalition to crumble although many of its MLAs don’t want to face the electorate once again.

“But if the BJP has to come to power, it will have to come with people (MLAs from other parties who defect) who want more than their pound of flesh. That leaves Karnataka in a limbo,” said Shastri. “Regardless of what the MLAs feel, I think we will have another (mid-term) election – it could be as soon as the time when Maharashtra goes to polls, or later if there is a desire to stay longer in power. Ultimately, power is a great binder.”