Karnataka verdict: 'Kingmaker' to king? How Kumaraswamy made Congress bend
When Janata Dal (Secular) leader HD Kumaraswamy claimed during the election campaign in Karnataka that his party would emerge as the "king, not the kingmaker", almost everyone dismissed it as hyperbole. He may well have the last laugh as he stands at the cusp of becoming the Chief Minister of Karnataka for the second time. This despite the fact that the JD(S) won 37 seats, three less than its 2013 tally of 40. It's ally, the Bahujan Samaj Party, has won one seat: Kollegal in Chamarajnagar district.
Early trends on Tuesday suggested that the Bharatiya Janata Party was heading for a comfortable majority in the Karnataka Assembly. However, a late surge in favour of the Congress restricted the BJP to 104 seats, 8 short of the majority mark.
Realising the need to prevent the BJP from wresting its 21st state, the Congress was quick to reach out to the JD(S) and announce the unconditional support of its 78 MLAs to Kumaraswamy as the next CM. Congress leader DK Shivakumar, who is said to be the "money-bags" of the party, also swung into action and secured the support of Independent MLA H Nagesh, who won from the Mulbagal seat in Kolar district with the support of the Congress, and Ranibennur MLA R Shankar of the Karnataka Pragnyavantha Janatha Party.
With these 80 MLAs on his side in addition to his own, Kumaraswamy is said to have the support of 118 MLAs in the 224 member Assembly. The effective strength of the Assembly is 222 as elections weren't held in two seats. However, as Kumaraswamy has won from two seats - the adjoining constituencies of Ramanagaram and Channapatna in Ramanagara district - he will have to resign from one, taking the alliance's tally down to 117 and that of the House to 221.
If the BJP fails to engineer any defections in the ranks of the Congress and JD(S), Kumaraswamy will be able to prove his majority in the House when given a chance by the Governor.
Compared to the 2013 Assembly elections, the JD(S)' vote share came down marginally, from 20.2% to 18.4%. However, this is not an accurate indication of how well the party has done in these elections. It's biggest success was in Chamundeshwari, where its candidate GT Deve Gowda defeated Chief Minister Siddaramaiah with a sizable margin of over 36000 votes.
The party's real success can be gauged in comparison with the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. It got a measly 11.1% of the total votes cast, getting squeezed between the two big national parties. It led in just 15 Assembly segments, less than half of its current tally. Much of the JD(S)' gains in its stronghold of Old Mysore are at the expense of the Congress. Among the seats where the JD(S) attained a lead compared to 2013, 17 were held by the Congress and 8 by the BJP.
In the Old Mysore region, JD(S) won 20 seats out of 43, with a vote share of nearly 35%, above both Congress and BJP.
However, the surprises were the JD(S) wins outside its core region. Particularly significant are its victories in seats such as Bidar South in Bidar district, Gurmitkal in Yadgir district, Manvi and Sindhanur in Raichur district and Nagthan and Sindgi in Bijapur district. In these seats, the JD(S) vote share was less than 10% in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. The rise in the party's vote share in all these seats is in excess of 25%.
The alliances with these two parties helped JD(S) wean away a chunk of the Congress' Dalit and Muslim votebank. To attract the support of these sections, Muslims in particular, JD(S) supremo HD Deve Gowda had explicitly stated that he would disown his son Kumaraswamy if he seeks the support of the BJP.
The support from minorities made it all the more difficult for the JD(S) to throw its lot behind the BJP following a hung Assembly.
However, in the Old Mysore region, the JD(S) may also have benefitted from some tactical voting by some BJP supporters who didn't want the anti-Congress votes to split in seats where the BJP didn't have a chance.
Through clever alliances and a conscious strategy to focus on only winnable and marginal seats, Kumaraswamy managed to achieve a robust tally of 38 for the JD(S) and its allies.
The victory was made even sweeter with the Congress, including Kumaraswamy's arch-rival Siddaramaiah, bowing before the party and agreeing to play second fiddle just to keep the BJP out.
The ideological basis of the prospective post-poll alliance was underlined by Karnataka Congress chief G Parameshwar, who made it a point to stress that the "S" in JD(S) stands for "secular". This was an about turn from Congress President Rahul Gandhi's comment during the campaign that the letter stood for "Sangh".
Now Kumaraswamy's main task is to keep his flock together and hope that the Congress is able to prevent defections in its ranks. The kingmaker may soon get to become king for the second time.