WHAT course the Congress-JD(S) coming together in Karnataka will take may not be clear yet but it’s becoming a test case for a larger Opposition alliance taking shape ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections to counter the BJP.
Hours after the two parties had decided to bury their electoral hatchet, top Opposition leaders Mamata Banerjee, Sitaram Yechury, K Chandrasekhar Rao and Mayawati dialled JD(S) patriarch H D Deve Gowda asking him to remain committed to the secular cause.
After initially suggesting that the Congress would have fared better with a pre-poll alliance with the JD(S), Banerjee urged the former Prime Minister to keep the BJP out of the state with the aid of Congress.
Sources said that before the results of its defeat came in, the Congress had decided to extend support to a JD(S) government led by H D Kumaraswamy in case the Congress tally fell below 90 seats. Sources said this was conveyed to JD(S)’s Danish Ali when Ghulam Nabi Azad met him on Sunday night.
It was also decided that the two parties should not “waste any time” if the situation comes to such a pass. The Congress, sources said, was keen to deny the BJP a shot at power in Karnataka. Azad, sources said, had the mandate of the Congress president Rahul Gandhi and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi. Click here for full list of winners in Karnataka Election Results
The message was then relayed to Kumaraswamy Monday night as he landed from Singapore. Sources said Kumaraswamy was “surprised and curious” with the Congress offer given the fact that the grand old party had been poaching its MLAs of late. The Congress message was conveyed to Deve Gowda, too. Sources said CPM General Secretary Sitaram Yechury was also in touch with Deve Gowda before counting began.
By the time the results had come in, sources said Azad reached out to the JD(S) at around 12.30 pm reiterating the Congress offer of unconditional support to a JD(S) government. Azad conveyed to the JD(S) that he had the authorisation from the high command and Chief Minister Siddaramaiah was on board.
In fact, Siddaramaiah and Mallikarjun Kharge were with Azad when the call was made. Sources said Ali then spoke to Siddaramaiah who turned emotional recalling their past.
However, there was a hitch. Kumaraswamy was still hesitant. He was upset that the BJP has won even in Hassan, the Gowda family bastion. He felt the BJP conquered Hassan because the JD(S)’s Muslim vote bank shifted to the Congress after the latter’s campaign that JD(S) had become the “B team of the BJP.”
In fact, Rahul Gandhi had even called JD(S) JD (Sangh Parivar) while addressing a rally in Mandya. There was another factor — the BJP, too, had started sending feelers to Kumaraswamy with a similar offer.
Kumaraswamy then drove to Deve Gowda’s residence. Sources said at least one senior non-Congress Opposition leader spoke to Deve Gowda and conveyed to him that trying to stop the BJP from getting power was the best way to prove the JD(S)’s secular credentials and shed its 2006 baggage when Kumaraswamy joined hands with the BJP.
Azad then spoke to Deve Gowda. The Congress was asked to join the government. Sources said the Congress would be offered the post of Deputy Chief Minister and some ministers. The idea, sources said, was to take the alliance to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
Sources said Deve Gowda told senior Opposition leaders that he was on board.
Still, both the Congress and the JD(S) fear attempts by the BJP to lure their MPs away. Sources said both could move their MLAs out of Karnataka to ward off poaching attempts.