Trying to buck anti-incumbency and retain power in Karnataka for the first time in almost 40 years, the Congress is leaving little to chance a day before election results. Though appearing confident of crossing the halfway mark on it own, the Congress Monday reached out to the JD(S) and rushed senior leaders Ghulam Nabi Azad and Ashok Gehlot to Bengaluru.
The move follows the uncertainty after exit polls and the lessons learnt from Goa and Manipur, where it failed to form governments despite emerging as the single largest party.
Azad, an old Karnataka hand and general secretary in charge of the state two decades ago, was the AICC minder for Karnataka when former president Sonia Gandhi contested the Bellary Lok Sabha seat in 1999. AICC general secretary in charge of Karnataka K C Venugopal too is in Bengaluru.
Sources said that Azad met a senior JD(S) leader in Delhi on Sunday night before leaving for Karnataka to understand former prime minister and JD(S) chief H D Deve Gowda and his son Kumaraswamy better.
Sources said the meeting was a mere exchange of notes and that nothing substantial was discussed as no “serious discussion can take place without the numbers.” According to the JD(S) assessment, it may well play a crucial role in government formation if neither the BJP nor Congress reached the halfway mark. Venugopal told The Indian Express that the Congress is expecting between 113 to 120 seats.
While the Congress is confident of victory, sources said exit polls have inserted a sense of uncertainty. After voting on Saturday, at least six exit polls predicted that the BJP would get the largest number of seats, while two indicated a Congress majority. Seven polls predicted a hung assembly, which suggested that the JD(S) – predicted to get between 20 and 40 of the state’s 224 seats – would be kingmaker.
Sources in the JD(S) and the Congress said they are willing to work with each other in the event of a hung assembly. And Azad’s presence in Bengaluru is significant since the Congress wants a leader of experience and stature to deal with Deve Gowda, a former PM.
Apart from the exit polls, Chief Minister Siddaramaiah’s statement that he was ready to step aside and make way for a Dalit chief minister in the state if the Congress high command wanted had also triggered a debate within the party.
Some top Congress leaders argued that it was a “political” statement. “He has won over the Dalits. It was a political statement. If we get the majority he will become the CM. Nobody can stop him. Either way, he was won over the Dalits,” a senior leader said in Delhi. Another leader said his statement was “well-structured”.
“From a national point of view, Dalits have lost the confidence in the entire country… there are no credible Dalit political leaders now… Mayawati is kind of out. There are no Dalit icons left. Dalits should have confidence in one party or the other… one individual or the other. That way it was a positive statement,” another leader said.