Litmus Test Ahead for Cong-JD(S) Coalition in South K'taka as Workers Fume Over Pre-Poll Deal
The fact that workers of each party are now being asked to support candidates of the ally hasn't gone down well with the rank and file.
File photo of Congress president Rahul Gandhi with JD(S) leader and Karnataka CM HD Kumaraswamy.
Bengaluru: The battle of 2019 will be a test of how acceptable the JD(S)-Congress coalition is to the voters of south Karnataka, which goes to polls in the second phase on April 18.
It was in south Karnataka that the Janata Dal-Secular (JD-S) and Congress had fought bitterly against each other in the Assembly election less than a year ago.
The alliance of the two parties after the election may have been accepted rather half-heartedly, but the fact that workers of each party are now being asked to support ally candidates hasn't gone down well with the rank and file.
According to a pre-poll agreement between the two parties, the JDS has fielded its candidates in seven of the 28 Lok Sabha seats, while the Congress has its own candidates in the other 21 constituencies.
However, there have been constant conflicts among workers in the lead-up to the election, particularly in the districts of Mandya, Tumkur and Hassan.
In Tumkur, the sitting Congress MP has refused to yield the seat to the JD(S) and filed his own nomination as an independent candidate. Later, he was persuaded to withdraw his candidature as JD(S) national president HD Deve Gowda himself wanted to contest from this seat.
In Hassan, a former Congress minister joined the BJP and is contesting on a saffron ticket. This rebellion was primarily against JDS candidate Prajwal Revanna, a grandson of Deve Gowda.
It is in Mandya, however, that the love-hate relationship between the allies has come to a peak.
Gowda’s other grandson and son of Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy, Nikhil Kumaraswamy, is the coalition’s candidate here and many have spoken openly against the choice.
It’s been four weeks since his candidature was announced, but the Mandya Congress is yet to come to terms with it.
“It’s a problem unique to Mandya. We have been able to placate workers in other places, we will sort this out too,” said Karnataka Congress president Dinesh Gundu Rao.
Several party workers have displayed Congress flags while campaigning for actor Sumalatha Ambarish, the wife of late actor-politician Ambarish who used to be a Congress MP from this district.
There have been many local Congress functionaries and leaders who have openly declared their support for Sumalatha, who is contesting as an independent but has the backing of the BJP.
“They have formed the coalition for a political purpose. At the ground level, it hasn’t worked," said Venkateshwara, a Congress worker.
“Why did they bring Nikhil here? Why do we need this father-son politics here? Wasn’t there a better candidate? Why couldn’t they just give the ticket to Sumalatha? Was there no candidate they could find from Mandya that they had to bring someone from another district? " said another party worker Devaraj.
To add more hurt to the Congress’ cause, the district's most influential farmers’ union — the Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha — has declared its support to Sumalatha.
Anil, a farmers’ activist, said the ryots were unhappy because the Gowda family had always tried to have complete control over the region’s politics.
“I had great respect for Deve Gowda. He succeeded because of Mandya. But he has grown like a huge tree. On the one side, there’s Kumaraswamy and his wife and on the other, there is Revanna and his wife. Now, the grandsons. Tomorrow, their wives will contest. Isn’t there anybody else in Mandya? Is it that only members of one family can contest from here?” Anil said.
The Congress has even had to sack seven of its block presidents for rebelling against the coalition candidate.
Even if the sentiment against Nikhil being a ‘dynast’ or an ‘outsider’ (his family hails from Hassan, while his chief minister father is a voter and an MLA from Ramanagara district) is won over, the party realises that it will take considerable might to woo women voters.
Many have been openly rooting for ‘Sumakka’ as Sumalatha is known and have even contributed money to her campaign whenever she went to villages seeking votes.
The anger is spreading to neighbouring Mysore where a JD(S) workers’ meeting, last week, saw considerable chaos with many workers questioning why they should campaign and vote for the Congress candidate in Mysore, when workers of the grand old party weren’t supporting their candidate in Mandya.
The top-brass of both parties have been on a fire-fighting mission almost every day to get their cadres toe the party line.
“We are going to conduct a series of meetings with workers of both the parties. By the time, they exercise their franchise, everything is going to be settled,” said JD(S) state president H Vishwanath.
“Of course, there are some who say they would vote for the rival candidates now, but they must remember Sumalatha is no longer an independent candidate, she is as good as a BJP nominee (the saffron party has decided against fielding a candidate in Mandya). Once they (voters) realise their vote will go for a non-secular party, their conscience and their ideology will kick in. They will vote for our candidate," Vishwanath added.
The problems in Mandya and Mysore probably led to KR Nagar as the choice for Congress president Rahul Gandhi's rally — though the venue is technically in Mysore district, it is part of the Mandya parliamentary constituency.
Gowda and the Congress’ most popular face in Karnataka, Siddaramaiah, have made it a point to be seen together at campaign rallies on a daily basis.
However, Nikhil himself is unmoved by all the sparring among party workers of the two allies.
“In 1996, when my father got a seat and was elected to the Lok Sabha, people had raised questions like who was Kumarswamy. He was known only as Deve Gowda’s son, but today, the whole world knows who Kumarswamy is. Today, I’m getting a fair chance and I will prove myself to the whole world,” he told News18.
Despite leaders expressing confidence of ironing out differences soon, the distrust among cadres runs deep and time is running out.
The uncomfortable chemistry at the district level may prove the coalitions’ undoing as voters exercise their franchise on Thursday.
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