While there is no doubt that the BJP through rebel leader Ramesh Jarikholi was trying to woo Congress MLAs to desert the ruling alliance in Karnataka, the momentum for the rebellion that took off on Saturday really came when legislators, known to be Siddaramaiah loyalists, raised the banner of revolt. The former chief minister’s critics within the Congress-JDS alliance are convinced that Siddaramaiah is letting personal ambitions ride over party interests and working to a plan.
The Lok Sabha results have convinced Siddaramaiah that sailing with the JD(S) brings no positive returns to the Congress. It is not just his old animosity vis-a-vis the Deve Gowda parivaar coming to the fore but also his need to protect his turf in the Old Mysuru region. Losing from Chamundeswari in Mysuru was bad enough in 2018. The BJP in both 2018 and 2019 elections has made significant inroads into this region where it had next to negligible presence and was always seen as Congress and JD(S) turf.
Votaries of the alliance had argued that arithmetic of the two parties would win the day in the Lok Sabha polls. Instead the lack of chemistry stood completely exposed. In the political marksheet, Siddaramaiah has understood that there is no future for the Congress in this arrangement, more so with the junior partner getting the top job.
Plan A therefore is to get HD Kumaraswamy to vacate his chair. Siddaramaiah’s supporters will agree to a reconciliation only if their leader gets the top job. (For the record however, Siddaramaiah has distanced himself from the rebellion, tweeting that “some of our MLAs have fallen into the trap of the BJP”.)
But that would be next to impossible given that the public perception will be negative if Siddaramaiah, after having been rejected by the voters last summer, worms his way back to the CM’s post. Moreover, there is no way Gowda will support Siddaramaiah as CM. If Kumaraswamy has to step down, Gowda will bat for anyone but Siddaramaiah.
Plan B therefore is to ensure one of Siddaramaiah’s key men gets the top job. That will ensure it will no longer be the Gowda family that will call the shots. Even though Siddaramaiah is the CLP leader, he no longer enjoys the clout he had between 2013-18. But again, both his detractors within the Congress and of course, the JD(S) are unlikely to let that happen.
Plan C is to compromise on the CM’s post if the top 3-4 plum posts go to Siddaramaiah’s chosen men. The Congress tested the waters by floating the name of Mallikarjun Kharge since he is more likely to be acceptable to Gowda. But there is no consensus over his name and Kharge himself, after having tasted defeat in the Lok Sabha elections, does not want to go through the ignominy of yet another public rejection.
All the cabinet ministers have resigned which means the Siddaramaiah camp can put Plan C into action if the Speaker is able to stave off the crisis triggered by the resignations. Ramesh Kumar has already said that eight resignation letters are not in order, giving the Congress a bit of a breather.
The timing is important to understand the latest round of Karnataka crisis. Siddaramaiah also sees in a non-Rahul Gandhi-led Congress an opportunity to assert himself as a regional satrap. The episode has shown ideology and principles have taken a long holiday in Karnataka politics. Leaders are willing to jump ship at the sight of better prospects that go beyond just the political. Siddaramaiah is using this time to test his options.
At a personal level, it is also Siddaramaiah’s attempt to press the reset button on his political future. The 2018 defeat was largely his responsibility since he was the face of the Congress campaign and in charge of strategy. Siddaramaiah also has to take a large chunk of the blame for the party coming a cropper in the Lok Sabha polls. He wants to use the crisis to take fresh guard, start afresh.
There is a Plan D as well though there isn’t understandably much enthusiasm for it. It is to let a BJP government come to power, with a few dissident MLAs jumping ship. This would mean Siddaramaiah will have to sit in the opposition but get the Gowdas off the Congress back. In any case, as most leaders say in private, the Congress-JD(S) arrangement was supposed to last only till the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and it is now living on borrowed time.
The BJP could not be more delighted. Because even while it was preparing to ambush the Congress-JD(S) government, the critical mass of fidayeen came from within the ruling house.
But like it is always in the unpredictable world of Karnataka politics, the last word has not yet been written. That’s because too many leaders are trying to be the scriptwriter of this ugly, yet riveting, political drama.