Moving to settle the disquiet over power sharing in Karnataka where their coalition is set to take charge Wednesday, Congress president Rahul Gandhi and JD(S) leader H D Kumaraswamy, meeting in the presence of UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi in New Delhi Monday, agreed to “forget the past, look at the future and forge a long-term relationship”.
Both sides exuded confidence that the cabinet formation formula would be thrashed out well before the swearing-in. The discussions on the power-sharing arrangement — especially on the post of the Speaker and the proposal for two Deputy Chief Ministers — will take place in Bengaluru Tuesday.
Sources in the JD(S) said the Congress would, in all likelihood, get the post of the Speaker since it was the larger of the two parties. On the Congress proposal for two Deputy CMs, sources said the JD(S) was open to a discussion since there was “no hard and fast rule” that there can’t be two persons on the post.
Landing in New Delhi, Kumaraswamy first met BSP chief Mayawati and discussed the role of regional parties in the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. It is learnt that N Mahesh, the lone BSP MLA in Karnataka, will join the Kumaraswamy government.
The JD(S) leader drove to Rahul Gandhi’s Tughlaq Lane residence around 7 pm. Sources said they did not get into specifics of cabinet formation. Over coffee, Kumaraswamy told Rahul and Sonia Gandhi that the Congress-JD(S) pact should be a “long-term relationship”. Rahul agreed. Both leaders said the “coalition should run smoothly, with coordination”.
Kumaraswamy assured the Congress leaders that he would provide good governance “without posing any problem to the Congress and its leaders”. He sought the blessings of Sonia who told him that he should discuss politics with Rahul and she could only give him her blessings.
Both the JD(S) and Congress are keen to make the swearing-in ceremony Wednesday a grand affair to showcase Opposition unity. Kumaraswamy said both Rahul and Sonia had agreed to attend. Also there will be Mayawati, TDP chief and Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu, Trinamool Congress chief and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury and Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan.
Kumaraswamy was accompanied by senior JD(S) leader Danish Ali. K C Venugopal, AICC general secretary in charge of Karnataka, was with Sonia and Rahul. It was decided that Venugopal and state Congress leaders and JD(S) leaders led by Ali would meet in Bengaluru Tuesday to discuss and finalise the cabinet formulation.
“All the nitty-gritty will be discussed Tuesday,” Ali told The Indian Express. Sources said a coordination committee will be set up to discuss and resolve issues that may arise. Besides, a common minimum programme will be drafted.
“There is no bargain. We will cordially work out things. We must work together. I am here to take their (Congress leaders) advice,” Kumaraswamy told reporters.
Rahul too tweeted: “I had a warm and cordial meeting this evening, in Delhi, with Shri H D Kumaraswamyji. We discussed the political situation in Karnataka and other matters of mutual interest. I will be attending his swearing in as CM of Karnataka, on Wednesday, in Bengaluru.”
Kumaraswamy told the Gandhis that the two parties should “forget the past and move forward.” Rahul agreed. The two share a bitter and acrimonious past. They shared power in 2004 but parted ways two years later. Kumaraswamy pulled out, joined hands with the BJP to bring down the Congress-led government and replaced Dharam Singh as Chief Minister. On the ground, the workers of both parties still view each other with suspicion.
Earlier in the day, Karnataka Congress chief Parameshwara voiced the unease. “I do understand the sentiments of many people that we should not have gone with the JD(S). But there was a need to stop the BJP from coming to power again in Karnataka. Keeping this in mind, our seniors took a decision to support the JD(S). We all must accept their decision… We may see difficult times ahead. We are visualising the challenges ahead, but we need to bear all the hardship to build a strong party,” he was quoted as saying at a party meeting in Bengaluru.
Hours before the meeting, Congress leaders including Ghulam Nabi Azad, Ashok Gehlot and Venugopal met Rahul and briefed him about the sense and aspirations of the party MLAs. The Congress demand to have two Deputy Chief Ministers remains a sticking point. The Congress wants to balance caste equations. Sources said there are at least three contenders — former ministers D K Shivakumar and M B Patil and Parameshwara himself — for the post.
Patil is a Lingayat while Shivakumar is from the Vokkaliga community. Parameshwara is the Dalit face of the Congress. The push for a Lingayat Deputy Chief Minister is seen as an attempt by the Congress to send a message to the Lingayat community given the fact that B S Yeddyurappa, considered the most influential leader of the community, was denied a chance to become Chief Minister.
Meanwhile, the All India Veerashaiva Mahasabha also complicated matters by demanding that their national president and Davanagere South MLA Shamanur Shivashankarappa be made the state Home Minister.
Kumaraswamy accused the BJP of setting up the downfall of its Lingayat leader Yeddyurappa despite being aware that the party did not have the numbers to form a government.
“The BJP rushed to make Yeddyurappa the Chief Minister knowing the government would fall. You have insulted Yeddyurappa’s community in this manner. If the BJP was really concerned about Yeddyurappa, it would have never allowed him to form an unstable government. The BJP seems to enjoy pushing people down. This is what was done with Yeddyurappa,’’ Kumaraswamy said.