JD-S, BJP dilemma over anti-Congress front

Bangalore, Aug 24 (IANS) The poor show of the JD-S and the BJP in the May 5 Karnataka assembly polls seems to be pushing them to jointly take on the state's ruling Congress in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. In the process, they are engaged in a balancing act over the nature of the anti-Congress arrangement.

Both the Janata Dal-Secular and the Bharatiya Janata Party are driven by the intense desire to defeat the Congress in the Lok Sabha elections due next April-May as the party humbled them in the assembly polls.

Belying several pre-poll projections that it might fall short of a majority in the 225-member assembly that includes one nominated member, the Congress romped home with 122 seats.

The JD-S and the BJP managed just 40 seats each with the remaining taken by smaller parties and independents.

The outcome was a shocker for the two parties, but more so for the JD-S as it expected a split verdict and to be a king-maker.

The BJP anticipated it would lose power after one term in office in view of corruption scandals that rocked the tenure of its first chief minister B.S. Yeddyurappa. However, it too did not expect to suffer this bad as it lost 70 of the 110 seats it had won in 2008.

The two parties, however, see a bright future for them in the state in the Lok Sabha elections - provided the anti-Congress votes are not split.

Karnataka sends 28 members to the Lok Sabha. In the 2009 elections, the BJP was the biggest winner with 19 seats. The Congress got just six and the JD-S only three.

Egging on the two parties is the general perception that the Congress' prospects in the Lok Sabha elections are bleak in view of the various corruption scandals of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government and the poor state of the economy.

The JD-S and the BJP are however finding it difficult to reach unanimity within on whether there should be a tie-up or an understanding between the two and who among them benefits more in a joint fight against the Congress.

The dilemma is more pronounced in the JD-S, derisively called by other political parties, including the BJP, as the "thande-makkala paksha (father and sons party)".

To the misfortune of the JD-S and to the glee of the Congress, the father, JD-S president and former prime minister H.D. Deve Gowda, and the son, the state JD-S chief and former chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy, have been sending conflicting signals on going with the BJP to humble the Congress in the general elections.

Deve Gowda talks of a third front of "secular" and Left parties forming either before or after the Lok Sabha polls as an alternative to replace the fronts led by the Congress and the BJP.

He sees himself playing a major role in national politics again after a short-lived prime ministership in 1996-97.

But Kumaraswamy, though wishing to see his father as prime minister again, seems realistic. He is content with being a major player in the state and is very keen to openly align with the BJP to defeat the Congress.

After all, Kumaraswamy had done it in 2006 by leading a group of JD-S legislators to join hands with the BJP to form a government with himself as chief minister.

Kumaraswamy is not averse to openly aligning with the BJP but his father remains reluctant, at least publicly, as he feels he will be dumped by "secular" and Left parties and his chances of playing a role again at the national level will be blocked.

While the father and son sort out their differences, the BJP's state leaders are also not united on going with the JD-S.

One section of the leadership wants the party to join hands with the JD-S only if it publicly acknowledges this. The other is willing to go along even if the JD-S does not officially acknowledge the arrangement.

A section in the JD-S, including Deve Gowda, fears that the votes of the minority community might slip away if the tie-up with the BJP is publicly acknowledged.

Given the strong desire to beat the Congress, the two parties may however paper over their so-called "secular-communal" divide, hoping the voters are more concerned about the scandals of the UPA and the grim economic situation.

(V.S. Karnic can be contacted at vs.karnic@ians.in)


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