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Kingmaker may become king in Karnataka as BJP falls just short

Poornima Joshi New Delhi | Updated on May 15, 2018 Published on May 15, 2018

In or out? (left) Outgoing chief minister Siddaramaiah of the Congress with JD(S) leader HD Kumaraswamy; (right) BS Yeddyurappa of the BJP

Governor holds the cards as BJP stakes claim, Congress offers CM post to HD Kumaraswamy

 

The hair’s breadth distance between the BJP and a simple majority in the Karnataka assembly on Tuesday prompted the Congress to join forces with the Janata Dal (Secular), a manoeuvre inviting counter-claims and assertions of victory by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP President Amit Shah.

Both the PM and Amit Shah underlined that the people’s verdict was in favour of the BJP. “I assure the people of Karnataka that the BJP will not let their development be halted by anyone,” said the PM in what seemed to be a declaration of intent to cobble together a majority in the southern state which has sprung a hung verdict.

Shah pointed out that the Congress’s tally has come down to 78 from 121 in 2013.

These assertions were the perfect post-script for a dramatic day, which witnessed a hung assembly in a thrilling triangular electoral contest.

The BJP emerged as the single largest party with 104 seats with about 36.2 per cent of the vote share, while the Congress, which secured the most votes (38 per cent), came down to 78 seats. The provincial party, the JD(S), got lucky, winning just 37 seats with 18.3 per cent vote share.

However, the Congress’s national ambitions propelled it to declare support for a government led by JD(S) President HD Kumaraswamy.

The Congress, along with the JD(S), two independents — R. Shankar from Ranebennur and H Nagesh from Mulbagal — and N Mahesh, the BSP MLA from Kollegal, make up a majority of 118 in a House of 222.

Ball in Governor’s court

Constitutional experts said that the appropriate course of action for Governor Vajubhai Vala is to invite the single-largest party, the BJP, to form the government.

“People did not vote for a coalition. They voted for different parties. So, the party with the highest number of seats has to be given the first chance. If they fail to pass the confidence vote, then the coalition that has staked its claim should get their chance,” said leading Constitutional expert Rajiv Dhawan.

But outgoing chief minister Siddaramaiah had a different view. “Where do they get their numbers from,” he said, addressing a joint press conference outside the Governor’s residence with his newfound ally HD Kumaraswamy.

 

This alliance, given the history of acrimony between JD(S) supremo and former prime minister HD Deve Gowda and Siddaramaiah, was the unlikely spectre that seemed to have caught the BJP off guard.

The swiftness with which the Congress made its moves, too, surprised the BJP.

The Congress seemed to have worked in coordination with the Left parties and intermediaries with HD Deve Gowda, who had already conveyed his willingness to choose the Grand Old Party over the BJP in case of a hung assembly.

The only obstacle in this process was Siddaramaiah. “Sonia Gandhi will come knocking,” Deve Gowda had told BusinessLine in an interview during the campaign.

Siddaramaiah deftly stepped aside and allowed the Congress high command’s emissaries — Ghulam Nabi Azad and Ashok Gehlot — to come to an understanding with Deve Gowda even as the results were still being declared on Tuesday afternoon.

Siddaramaiah has clearly sensed the failure of his poll strategy, especially the move to woo the dominant community of Lingayats by giving them minority status, which backfired spectacularly with the community consolidating around the BJP’s CM candidate BS Yeddyurappa.

Published on May 15, 2018
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