Congress-JD(S) Open New Doors for Opposition Unity in 2019

All eyes on Karnataka and the Governor

NEW DELHI: The Congress-Janata Dal(S) alliance has opened new doors for Opposition unity in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Senior Opposition leaders recognising this have been telephoning JD-S leader HD Deve Gowda urging him to stay strong, and keep the alliance from breaking. They have reminded him of 2019, the old Janata Dal led United Front alliance, and made it clear that a similar arrangement was necessary for the forthcoming parliamentary elections as the regional parties alone could defeat the BJP. With Congress support as and where required.

The two parties that are still waiting for the Karnataka Governor Vajubhai Vala to take a decision, have decided to fight the battle to the finish and will approach the Supreme Court in case he decides to go along with the BJP and invite the single largest party, instead of the alliance with the requisite majority. The JD-S fought these elections in a coalition with the Bahujan Samaj party, the Samajwadi party, and the Nationalist Congress party. This coalition is part of the larger Opposition unity seen in Parliament and in other state elections since 2014.

The Congress did not go along with this in Karnataka and even helped alienate the JD-S by describing it as the B team of the BJP. However, the Congress party had been preparing for Plan B for several days towards the end of the campaign, with at least some leaders exploring the possibility of a Kumaraswamy led government in case their party failed to secure a majority. Of course Plan B hinged on the BJP securing less than a simple majority and as soon as the figures confirmed this the Congress leadership lost no time in putting the plan into operation.

Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad met Janata Dal-S leader Danish Ali in Delhi. Congress party’s matriarch Sonia Gandhi telephoned H.D.Deve Gowda. And within hours, with a speed that the Congress has not been known for, it made it very clear that it was one, more than willing to support a JD-S led government; two, would not interfere with its choice of Chief Minister with the suggestion---not a condition--that a Dalit Deputy Chief Minister would be a sound political decision; and three, the party had left all the campaign animosity behind and was looking at a coalition government in Karnataka that could take on the BJP int he 2019 elections as well.

Former chief minister Siddaramaiah almost immediately came out and announced his support for JD-S and although he did not look very happy at the time, 24 hours later the smile is back. And he again spoke to the media about the BJP effort to buy the MLA’s and stop the coalition government from coming to power. Incidentally after the polling Siddaramaiah was the first to hint at the possibility by speaking of a Dalit CM at the time.

The Citizen had written about Gowda’s own inclination for the Congress party, that was foiled by a level of arrogance within the larger party and its inability to move away from Siddaramaiah during the elections. As sources said, it was difficult for the Congress to jettison Siddaramaiah for an alliance with the JD-S as this would mean accepting HD Kumaraswamy as the possible Chief Minister. Besides, the Congress felt it was on strong ground but towards the last week finalised Plan B to be put into motion with an all out effort to woo the Janata Dal-S.

The results are being seen as “the best possible situation in the circumstances” by the Congress and theJD-S as the BJP is short of a majority, but has enough not to go along with the JD-S and its demands that include a government led by Kumaraswamy. There has been worry about horse trading but this has been deal with by both parties with public announcements of the BJP efforts to buy MLAs, with Kumaraswamy insisting that the price per MLA is Rs 100 crores. This has made it difficult for the newly elected legislators to cross sides, with even an Independent MLA who was seen floating in both camps, returning to the Congress fold as it were.

Danish Ali told The Citizen that he expected the Governor who is of course taking his time to go by the law and the Constitution and call the two parties who have submitted letters of support signed by 117 MLA’s to form the government. He cited the Goa example, saying that the apex court had ruled in its favour and the Governor had no choice but to call the alliance with the requisite number of legislators to form the government. The Congress has decided to approach the Supreme Court if the Governor goes along with the BJP, preferring the single largest party without the numbers to the alliance that has a clear majority in the House.

The Congress has secured a higher percentage of the votes than the BJP, although with fewer seats. According to an Indian Express calculation the votes secured by both the Congress and the JD-S leave the BJP with essentially six Lok Sabha seats in 2019. The two parties have moved their MLA’s to a resort to prevent the feared horse trading, as even if the Governor does not want to he will have to call the two parties to form the government if the BJP is not able to make up the seven MLA shortfall. There are no smaller political parties that can be enticed to cross over and just two Independents of whom one has signed the support letter submitted to the Governor.

The BJP is now worried, as a Congress-JD(S) government in Karnataka will give a fillip to Opposition unity in the 2019 polls. The Congress party, sources said, has taken a decision to play second fiddle to the smaller party, and work instead for the general elections. In UP the BSP and the SP seem to have worked out their differences and are looking at the larger alliance in the state with the Congress party probably joining in as well. In Bihar Lalu Yadav and the Rashtriyan Janata Dal are reported to have gained considerable ground over the past one year since Chief Minister Nitish Kumar overturned the peoples mandate. And is in close alliance with the Congress party. The NCP-Congress alliance in Maharasthra is certain now, with the Telugu Desam in Andhra Pradesh, Biju Janata Dal in Orissa, and Trinamool Congress in West Bengal finding slots in the larger Opposition patchwork.

Karnataka, the sources said, has thus become very important to not just the two but all the Opposition parties that are keeping the pressure on the Congress and the JD-S even as the two keep up the pressure on the Governor in the battle for the southern state.