As they got down to details of a possible seat-sharing formula, Karnataka’s coalition partners, Janata Dal (Secular) and Congress, both pointed out that they would be flexible with the negotiations. The two parties successfully fought by-elections together a few months earlier and they are also used to various local pacts. But this is the first time the two parties will be facing a Lok Sabha election as pre-poll allies. By most accounts, it’s a tricky task.
Tricky, because the Congress has a wider presence across the state while the JD(S) is firmly entrenched in southern Karnataka. In many of the 28 Lok Sabha seats in the state, especially in the northern districts, the smaller party is not much of a factor, says political commentator Narendar Pani. “So, we are talking about, maybe, 10-12 constituencies where the Congress and JD(S) are the main rivals,” he says. Both parties will look to protect their turf, being wary of ceding ground to the other.
Last weekend, JD(S) supremo H.D. Deve Gowda indicated that his party has asked for 12 seats. “But I will also not be rigid in saying that they should give us 12,” the former prime minister said, adding the Congress too ought to be flexible. A co-ordination committee meeting in Bangalore remained inconclusive. “If you look at the public statements, they are striking a conciliatory note. But that doesn’t mean there’s no tension,” says Bangalore-based political analyst A Narayana. “The JDS is asking for seats which were won last time by the Congress.”
In 2014, the BJP won 17 of the 28 seats in Karnataka while the Congress held 9 and the JD(S) won in Mandya and Hassan, a Vokkaliga stronghold. These two seats have garnered much of the attention in recent weeks with local Congressmen demanding that their party not let go of them even as the JD(S) indicated that Deve Gowda’s grandsons Nikhil Gowda and Prajwal Revanna would likely be the candidates there. Actress Sumalatha, widow of the filmstar-Congressman M. H. Ambareesh is inclined to contest elections from Mandya, complicating things further for both parties given the popularity that Ambareesh enjoyed. Last November, the two parties had jointly fought and won the Mandya Lok Sabha by-election. “As the sitting MP of Mandya is from JD(S), they may probably field the candidate and there is no question of us supporting any other candidates,” said Congress leader Siddaramaiah, indicating that the party won’t back Sumalatha’s bid for a party ticket. The JD(S), meanwhile, is understood to be angling for Bangalore North, Mysore, Chikkaballapura, Tumkur and Chitradurga among others. The last three are held by Congress.
Both parties have indicated that the seat-sharing arrangement will be finalised in a week after their national leaders meet. The JD(S)-Congress coalition took shape in May 2018 when the two parties formed the government even as the BJP fell short of a majority, despite emerging the single-largest party. Since then Karnataka’s coalition partners have faced many a precarious situation, the last episode coming in February when—faced with a BJP onslaught—chief minister H. D. Kumaraswamy released audio clips as proof of his allegation that the opposition party was trying to topple his government by luring legislators with money and ministerial positions.
The numbers game came back to haunt the government as Congress legislator Dr Umesh Jadhav sent in his resignation to the Speaker. Jadhav is among a handful of dissenting Congress MLAs who had kept the party on tenterhooks. Siddaramaiah tweeted about the Congress’ petition seeking disqualification of four MLAs, including Jadhav. The petition is still pending with the Speaker. Meanwhile, there’s speculation that Jadhav may contest the Lok Sabha polls against Mallikarjuna Kharge (sitting MP from Gulbarga) on a BJP ticket.
- The Congress and JD (S) will fight a general election as pre-poll allies for the first time in Karnataka.
- In 2014, the BJP won 17 of the 28 seats in Karnataka, Congress bagged nine while the JD (S) got two.
By Ajay Sukumaran in bangalore