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Will JDS-Congress Survive Lok Sabha Battle? Karnataka's 'HMT' Time the Creaky Coalition

The Lok Sabha constituencies of Hassan, Mysore/Mandya and Tumkur have become the test of the alliance as both parties fought bitterly against each other in these districts during the Assembly elections.

Deepa Balakrishnan | CNN-News18deepab18

Updated:May 11, 2019, 7:48 AM IST
Will JDS-Congress Survive Lok Sabha Battle? Karnataka's 'HMT' Time the Creaky Coalition
File photo of Karnataka Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy with Congress president Rahul Gandhi.

Bengaluru: The answer to how much time Karnataka’s ruling Congress and Janata Dal (Secular) coalition have left together perhaps rests with HMT —not the beleaguered watchmaker, but the Lok Sabha constituencies of Hassan, Mysore/Mandya and Tumkur.

Soon after polling was completed last month, doubts have been repeatedly raised on whether the coalition will survive the Lok Sabha elections. Many running the government also believe that how Karnataka votes now will determine how long they have left in the state assembly.

The HMT constituencies in south Karnataka have become the test of the alliance — both parties fought bitterly against each other in these districts during the Assembly elections, before coming together to form a government in May 2018 and then joining hands to contest the Lok Sabha elections. However, district-level leaders and workers have expressed discontent with coalition candidates in all districts, most vociferously so in Mandya and Mysore.

According to Sandeep Shastri, political analyst and pro-vice chancellor at Jain University, Mandya and Mysore have become “flashpoints” because of who the candidates are and who are backing them. “The Chief Minister (HD Kumaraswamy) has put his prestige in the Mandya fight and Congress leader and former CM Siddaramaiah in the Mysore fight,” he says.

Congress leaders admit that the coalition hasn’t worked “100 per cent” on the ground, and that local-level rifts remain.

In Mandya, Congress workers have expressed support for BJP-backed Independent candidate Sumalatha rather than for JD(S) candidate Nikhil, the Chief Minister’s son. Meanwhile in Mysore, Siddaramaiah’s hometown, there is a feeling that JD(S) workers covertly supported the BJP candidate against the former CM’s loyalist, CH Vijayshankar. This feeling gained traction when senior JD(S) minister GT Devegowda told the media recently that the alliance had failed to unite JD(S) and Congress workers in some gram panchayats. Devegowda, incidentally, had defeated Siddaramaiah in the assembly elections, which is another source of bad blood.

Similarly, in Tumkur and Hassan, where former prime minister HD Deve Gowda and his grandson Prajwal, respectively, are contesting, BJP leader Suresh Gowda recently prophesied: "The Congress will defeat the JD(S) candidates here."

In this milieu, several detractors of the alliance have been told that the government will be in peril if they do not work for coalition candidates. Indeed, in Mandya, Congress functionaries were suspended and warned about disciplinary action if the results are negative on May 23, judgement day.

Whatever, the outcome, the Lok Sabha results in Karnataka, and even beyond, will impact the alliance, says Shastri. At the Centre, if they come to power along with other allies, they would need to stay in the coalition, even if Nikhil and Vijayashankar lose.

But, if the BJP comes back to power at the Centre, the coalition might stand on shaky ground. Some leaders, including Siddaramaiah, might see no point in continuing as the greater but less influential partner. The Congress, after all, won 78 seats against the JD(S)’s 37 but still missed out on bagging the post of chief minister.

So, will the government last beyond May 23? “It all depends on the national scenario,” admits a senior Congress leader.

The BJP, meanwhile, is waiting in the wings. The story goes that on March 9, a day before the model code of conduct kicked in, Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy met the Prime Minister to ask for release of pending central funds. Kumaraswamy was allegedly told he would get the BJP’s support too if he was willing to resign the same day, and be sworn in as CM in a JD(S)-BJP coalition.

The CM was apparently non-committal, saying he needed to consult the party’s president, his father HD Deve Gowda. “The next day, too, there were many calls after he returned to Bangalore,” says a JD(S) leader.

There are suspicions that the JD(S) is open to switching allegiance to the BJP, but others believe that this fear is unfounded.

According to JD(S) MLC and spokesperson TA Shravana, the coalition’s naysayers are mostly from the BJP, but they underestimate HD Deve Gowda’s ability to unite regional parties at the Centre. “There is only one leader who has the experience, determination, and chanakyathana (shrewdness) to bring together KCR, Mayawati, Naveen Patnaik, Stalin, Mamata… It is Deve Gowda,” he says.

“From the day HDK was sworn in, the BJP has been saying this government will fall. But wait and see, this Parliament election will see surprise results,” says Sharavana.

Who will be surprised, is the question.

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