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Karnataka misstep to hurt Congress in 2018 polls?

LiveMint logoLiveMint 19-06-2017 Sharan Poovanna

Bengaluru: Eleven Karnataka Congress legislators shot off a letter to state party president G. Parameshwara on Saturday seeking action against legislative council member V.S. Ugrappa and others following a failed Congress-sponsored no-confidence vote against the chairman of the upper house, Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) D.H. Shankaramurthy, in what political analysts said was an attempt to shield top party leadership.

The failed attempt resulted in the Congress isolating itself and pushing the Janata Dal (Secular)—which it considers similar in ideology—closer to the BJP even though no pre or post poll alliances have been sealed so far and adding to the challenges of Parameshwara and chief minister Siddaramaiah, who will lead the party to next year’s polls

The BJP and the JD(S) came to an understanding in 2015 to divide the posts of chairman and deputy among themselves and deny the 33-member Congress control in the 75-member legislative council.

Sandeep Shastri, a political scientist and pro-vice chancellor of Jain University in Bengaluru said the Congress’s miscalculated strategy had hurt the party more than what it could have gained had it been successful in removing Shankaramurthy from the chairman’s post, considered ‘ceremonial’ at best.

In the process, the party damaged all attempts by Siddaramaiah to get closer to JD(S) patriarch and former prime minister H.D. Devegowda and stop the BJP’s onslaught in Karnataka which is among the last few states impeding the saffron party’s national cry for a ‘Congress-Mukt Bharat’.

The Congress—other than gunning for Ugrappa—went on the offensive and alleged that the JD(S) decision to move closer to the BJP was aimed at making the central National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government soften its stand against the regional party’s state chief, H.D. Kumaraswamy, in the Janthkal mining scam—a claim vehemently denied by JD(S).

JD(S) benefited the most by sticking with its earlier arrangement with the BJP despite being offered the chairman’s post by the Congress even though the regional party would have been the smaller partner in a possible alliance.

JD(S) has 13 members, BJP has 23 and the Congress has 33 members in the upper house of the state. It also gave JD(S) the opportunity to shed past criticism of practising “opportunistic politics”.

“JD(S) has to play opposite of the Congress as it targets all anti-Congress votes,” said Narendar Pani, political analyst and professor at the National Institute of Advanced Sciences , Bengaluru. He said it was beneficial for the JD(S) and the Congress which can now portray itself as fighting alone in the 2018 elections—a factor that translates into bagging more seats than pre-poll alliances.

“JD(S) may contemplate on supporting BJP if the mine stalemate continues,” Harish Ramaswamy, political analyst and professor at the Karnataka University, Dharwad said. But the saffron party cannot take JD(S) support in the move as an indication of a possible alliance.

Pani said JD(S) would lose out on votes if it were seen as the ‘B’ team of the BJP.

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