Karnataka allies spar over CM post ahead of LS poll results

Bengaluru: Ahead of the Lok Sabha election results on May 23, Karnataka’s ruling allies Janata Dal-Secular (JD-S) and the Congress are locked in a war of words over the post of the chief minister.

With the continuation or survival of their year-old coalition government hinged upon the verdict of the 28 Lok Sabha seats in the southern state, the opposition BJP is waiting in the wings to grab power in case the post-poll allies part ways.

“The arch rivals came together in an unholy alliance after the May 2018 Assembly polls solely to keep our party out of power. But their differences over sharing power are evident now, with their leaders sparring over who should be the next chief minister when their government’s survival itself is at stake,” state BJP leader G. Madhusudhan told IANS on Friday.

Though the two allies jointly fought the parliamentary elections fielding common candidates in all the 28 seats — the Congress on 21 and the JD-S on 7 seats — the results will determine their coalition government’s fate.

For now, the war of words on the social media and during the campaign for the May 19 twin Assembly bypolls in Kundagola and Chincholi in the state’s northwest and northern regions over who should be the next chief minister indicates that the days of present incumbent H.D. Kumaraswamy, of the JD-S, are numbered.

“The Kumaraswamy government’s survival depends on how the Congress performs at the state and national levels in the Lok Sabha polls. In the event of the BJP winning more seats in the state than the allies together or separately, the coalition government will collapse if the dozen rebels in the Congress resign from the party or forfeit their Assembly seats,” a political analyst told IANS.

In the 225-member state Assembly, including one nominated, the BJP has 104 seats, Congress 77, JD-S 37, BSP and the Karnataka Pragnyavantha Janatha Party (KPJP) 1 each. There is one independent and a Speaker as well as two vacant seats.

“If the Congress fails to retain the two Assembly seats in the bypoll, the coalition government’s survival depends on the party reining in its rebels, as Kumaraswamy would have just one more seat (77+37=114) than the halfway mark (113) for a simple majority in the lower house,” said the analyst.

There is no love lost between the two allies, especially at the cadre level, as evident from their rivalry during the campaigning. And an adverse verdict in the Lok Sabha polls will lead to a blame game and result in parting of ways if the Congress returns to power at the Centre or emerges as the single largest party.

“The controversy between the two allies over who should be the next chief minister is a deliberate attempt to divert the people’s attention from the results, which according to their assessment will spell doom for the coalition government as the prospects of the Congress returning to power at the Centre are remote,” claimed Madhusudhan.

With a couple of Congress ministers and a dozen party legislators claiming that their legislative party (CLP) leader Siddaramaiah was their chief minister and clamouring for his return at the helm, JD-S leaders, ministers and legislators are upset with their ally.

“Our party is committed to support the JD-S and Kumaraswamy irrespective of the Lok Sabha poll results. The chief minister’s post is not vacant as Kumaraswamy will be the head of the coalition government for the next four years,” state Congress President Dinesh Gundu Rao told IANS here.

While Siddaramaiah, who was the state’s Congress Chief Minister from 2013-2018, tried to play down the clamour for his return to the top post by his loyalists, JD-S state President A.H. Vishwanath ruled out the former becoming the chief minister again as the Congress lost the May 2018 Assembly elections under his (Siddaramaiah’s) leadership.

“Though we (JD-S) won only 37 seats, we agreed to form the coalition government with the Congress support under Kumaraswamy after contesting against each other in the Assembly polls ostensibly to keep the BJP out of power,” Vishwanath told reporters at Mysuru last week.

When Siddaramaiah retaliated against Vishwanath, Kumaraswamy said veteran Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge should have become the chief minister long ago, as he was the state’s tallest Dalit leader and rose through the ranks.

Countering Kumaraswamy, Siddaramaiah tweeted that there were many capable leaders in the Congress and JD-S worthy of becoming chief minister, including Public Works Department Minister H.D. Revanna, the elder brother of Kumaraswamy.

“The alliance partners are displaying their true colours and waiting to strike against each other after the Lok Sabha results. In this game of one-upmanship, the stakes are higher for the Congress than the JD-S, which has nothing to lose with 37 seats in the Assembly,” added the analyst.