Karnataka elections 2018: On the ground, some tension; a Cong-JD(S) reality check

The Congress hopes to stem the BJP charge across India and build momentum before the crucial Assembly polls in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, by keeping Karnataka, while the JD(S) hopes power will help it rebuild the party in Karnataka and perhaps even become a larger force in the Lok Sabha in 2019.

Written by Apurva | Mandya | Updated: May 20, 2018 3:34:03 pm
JD(S) and Congress, the 2005-06 coalition Bengaluru: JD(S) Leader H D Kumaraswamy with Congress leader D K Shivakumar show victory sign to celebrate after chief minister BS Yediyurappa announced his resignation before the floor test, at Vidhana Soudha, in Bengaluru, on Saturday. (PTI Photo/Shailendra Bhojak) (PTI5_19_2018_000112B)

Since the Karnataka election results threw up a hung Assembly, Marigowda, a Shrirangapatna JD(S) leader, has had barely a quiet moment. A day before the crucial trust vote, he was called in to defuse a clash between JD(S) and Congress workers in Tadagavadi village here. It was the third time he had had to break up a fight between workers of the two parties since they announced they would form a coalition government, with JD(S) leader H D Kumaraswamy as chief minister.

“Our workers were so happy, they burst firecrackers outside the homes of Congress workers. The Congress workers were obviously unhappy and there was a minor scrap,” Marigowda says, of Thursday’s incident. While the JD(S) and Congress may present a united picture in Bengaluru, here in Mandya district — the heart of Karnataka’s farmer and Vokkaliga politics, and the battleground where the two parties fought a pitched, high-stakes election — the cracks are harder to paper over.

Also read | Interview with Siddaramaiah: Congress, JD(S) are like-minded parties, will decide on common programmes

Before the Supreme Court ordered floor test by 4 pm Saturday, the Congress and JD(S) had called a protest against Governor Vajubhai Vala. Admits Byregowda, a Congress party worker in Dammanahalli, “It galled me to stand with JD(S) workers. We hate each other. Most of us are family, but we hate each other.”

In the end, while the workers came, they stood shoulder-to-shoulder only for the duration of the protest. “Even there it was tense. I knew three men who spoke against my parents during the campaign. My blood boiled, but what could I do?” says Shekhar, a JD(S) worker.
For Mandya, the hastily put together JD(S)-Congress alliance also brings back memories of an earlier tie-up in 2004 after a similar fractured mandate — the BJP was the single largest party with 79 seats, while the Congress and JD(S) stood at 65 and 58. Congress leader Dharam Singh was sworn in as chief minister with JD(S) support. The alliance lasted but 21 months. In February 2006, the JD(S) withdrew support and H D Kumaraswamy became CM with BJP support.

Siddaramaiah interview: Congress, JD(S) are like-minded parties, will decide on common programmes Former CM Siddaramaiah being greeted by Congress leaders in the House. (PTI Photo)

Read | How Congress fought back from loss

This time though, there are larger compulsions at play which may keep the Congress and JD(S) together. The Congress hopes to stem the BJP charge across India and build momentum before the crucial Assembly polls in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, by keeping Karnataka, while the JD(S) hopes power will help it rebuild the party in Karnataka and perhaps even become a larger force in the Lok Sabha in 2019.

The JD(S) leadership knows only too well what 12 years without power means. Says Sakleshpur MLA H K Kumaraswamy, “We have to maintain a party and grass-root workers. The JD(S) hopes to gain popularity over the next two years and spread out of the Old Mysuru region. We may even up our tally to 60 (in the Assembly).”

Read | Karnataka govt formation Highlights

Senior leaders also point to the difference in the Congress and BJP since 2006. “The BJP is a lot stronger than the Congress nationally. Even in the state, they have 104 seats, to the Congress’s 78. It is easier for us to dictate terms to the Congress. If we ally with the BJP, there is a chance they will eat up our MLAs in a few months,” points out a senior JD(S) leader.

However, on the ground in Mandya, these calculations are harder to explain to local leaders, grass-root workers and supporters. “Mandya directly rejected the Congress. Out of seven seats in this district, we won all. This has happened only once before, in the Nineties. And we managed this after the Congress engineered the defection of incumbent JD(S) MLAs in three seats,” says Raghu, a JD(S) worker of 20 years.

He adds, “I have been hit, jailed and abused by Congress workers. We can taste the return of Kumaranna (Kumaraswamy) as CM, but with Congress support, it’s like annadali uppu jasti (rice with too much salt).”

It’s the same on the Congress side. Santosh, who unsuccessfully contested the panchayat polls, says, “See, there is no BJP here and there will never be. I think they have lost deposits in most seats. So, it is between the Congress and JD(S).”

Sources in the Congress in Mandya also suggested caution. A former Congress MLA from Mandya district says, “It is short-term gain but the long-term effects may be more serious for the Congress than the leaders believe. There is a chance we will slowly start ceding ground to the BJP or JD(S)… The BJP is already attracting local Congress leaders and former MLAs who cannot expect to get any work done in this alliance government.”

Grass-root workers are also unhappy with the Bengaluru leadership for leaving them in the dark. “They have not told us anything. We have no information save what we see on TV. I thought we had won on May 15 and then suddenly they (local leaders) said stop fighting with the Congress and don’t antagonise them,” says a JD(S) worker. “Why not? This is the one chance to antagonise them,” he adds. “As a party worker, I have nothing else to look forward to. Now I’ll keep quiet and see what happens.”

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