Congress outsmarts BJP, gets to rule Bengaluru
- \r\nThe BJP won\r\n 100 seats in BBMP polls; the Cong won only 76\r\n
- \r\nA panel of\r\n all elected representatives chose Bengaluru\'s mayor\r\n
- \r\nIndependent\r\n corporators backed Cong after BJP\'s cold shoulder\r\n
- \r\nCong also\r\n managed to get support from JD (S)\r\n
After a lot skulduggery and cloak-and-dagger politics until the eleventh hour, the Congress succeeded in wresting the position of the mayor of Bengaluru from the BJP.
A 260-member electoral college on Friday gave Congress candidate Manjunath Reddy a three-vote lead over the BJP's Manjunath Raju.
Catch had reported the possibility of such an outcome a week ago.
While independent Rajya Sabha member and industrialist Vijay Mallya remained absent, the remaining college comprised three Union ministers: Venkaiah Naidu, H Ananth Kumar and DV Sadananda Gowda. But they couldn't propel Raju to the mayoral chair.
The BJP had won the elections to the Bruhat Bengaluru Manahanagara Palike (BBMP) last month: its 100 seats were way ahead the 76 the Congress could manage.
But the Congress still sailed through with the help of the JD (S), seven independents and the votes of non-corporators (MPs, MLAs and MLCs).
A simple majority had led to premature celebration in the BJP camp, and the party failed to reckon that the Karnataka Municipal Corporations Act, 1976, provided for participation and voting by legislators and parliamentarians representing Bengaluru.
Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, who had staked his prestige and campaigned for more than three months, was distraught with the results and took responsibility for the defeat.
But his close aide Bairathi Basavaraju and ministers Ramalinga Reddy and KJ George refused to throw in the towel and quietly worked behind the scenes.
After learning that the BJP leaders had cold-shouldered the independent corporators who had approached them, Basavaraju and George took seven of them to a resort in Kerala.
The JD (S), on the other hand, was in a state of despair, having won only 14 seats. But when the Congress approached for a tie up, party boss and former prime minister HD Deve Gowda sensed that he could still be in the game.
Zameer Ahmed Khan, Man Friday to Deve Gowda's son Kumaraswamy, quickly moved to ensure that the party corporators were flown to yet another resort in Kerala so that the BJP could not poach them.
In less than 48 hours, the victory had turned sour for the BJP, and its leader R Ashok was berated by partymen for 'insulting' the independent corporators.
A panic-stricken BJP sent Sadananda Gowda to Deve Gowda's residence to work out an alliance, but the canny former PM made no commitments and asked him to talks to his son.
The state Congress was sharply divided on joining hands with the JD (S). Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee President G Parameshwara felt the party should keep away from the father-son duo who ditched the Dharam Singh-led Congress government in 2006.
The Janata Dal (Secular) also helped the 'communal' BJP win the election on its own in 2008.
But Parameshwara was overruled by Siddaramaiah and Digvijay Singh, who is in charge of Karnataka on behalf of the party high command. On Singh's direction, Parameshwara met Deve Gowda and sought his support.
The Congress also ensured the numbers game went its way by getting VS Ugrappa and Raghu Achar, MLCs from Tumkur and Chitradurga, to change their residential address to Bangalore. This made them part of the electoral college.
A good five days before the college was to vote, the Congress bundled together its corporators in two resorts in Madikeri, with watchful 'escorts' keeping an eye on them.
It was a sweet comeback. In its 'Operation Lotus', during BS Yeddyurappa's tenure as chief minister, the BJP had used the same 'resort politics' to lure Congress MLAs.
A Congress-JD (S) alliance was still tough to achieve as Siddaramaiah and Kumaraswamy had turned bitter rivals. Just a month ago, the JD (S) had brought a no-confidence motion against the government, accusing it of massive corruption.
The rivalry dates back to Siddaramaiah's JD (S) days. He left the party in 2007 after being denied chief ministership. In 2013, he led the Congress to victory, relegating the struggling JD (S) to the third place.
Still, Deve Gowda knew that the Congress's offer was manna from heaven. When Kumaraswamy tried to put preconditions like the trifurcation of BBMP being put on hold, Deve Gowda put his foot down and announced unconditional support.
A quintessential 24/7 politician, Gowda could see that this tie-up could be the stepping stone for an understanding in future elections to the legislative council, the Rajya Sabha and the Assembly elections.
The Congress, one presumes, realises what it has walked into.