Congress-JDS alliance: Deve Gowda-Siddaramaiah rift delays seat plans

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JD(S) chief H D Deve Gowda, Congress leader Siddaramaiah and Karnataka CM HD Kumaraswamy in Bengaluru. (PTI/File)

Despite an overarching agreement between Congress president Rahul Gandhi and Janata Dal (Secular) chief H D Deve Gowda for the Lok Sabha elections, the two parties are engaged in a battle of attrition, especially in south Karnataka, where the two are bitter rivals.

One of the reasons is the tension between Deve Gowda and his former protege Siddaramaiah. The former chief minister, who was seen to have agreed unwillingly to the decision to leave the CM post to the JD(S) after the 2018 Assembly elections, despite the Congress winning more seats, has emerged as a rallying point within the state Congress.

As part of a broad agreement, the Congress and JD(S) had decided to pide the 28 Karnataka Lok Sabha seats as per their strength in the Assembly: roughly two-third to the Congress (18 seats) and one-third to the JD(S).

Now, one of the most contentious constituencies is proving to be Mysore - currently held by the BJP - where the JD(S) has staked claim, even as the Congress, especially Siddaramaiah, is keen on fielding a candidate there since Mysore is his home turf.

JD(S) sources said the party wanted Mysore as it was stronger in this region. "But it is ready to give the seat if Siddaramaiah himself contests the seat," a party leader said.

JD(S) sources admit that apart from hoping that this would prevent Siddaramaiah from playing mischief in seats contested by the JD(S), the party "would be happy to see Siddaramaiah go away to the Centre" as an MP.

In the 2018 Assembly elections, the BJP had won four of the eight Assembly segments in the Mysore region while the JD(S) had won three, including Chamundeshwari, where Siddaramaiah was defeated (a loss he blames on the JD-S). The Congress had been reduced to one from five Assembly seats.

Congress Karnataka president Dinesh Gundu Rao admitted last week that Mysore was proving a problem in formalising the Lok Sabha deal with the JD(S). He also conceded hiccups over the Mandya Lok Sabha seat, which is with the JD(S). The JD(S) has tentatively proposed fielding actor Nikhil Kumaraswamy, a grandson of Deve Gowda and son of Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy, while the Congress is pushing for Sumalatha, the wife of actor and three-time MP M H Ambareesh, who died last year.

From Mysore, the Congress is considering fielding C H Vijayshankar, a former BJP MP, wooed over by Siddaramaiah. What complicates matters is that Deve Gowda is said to be looking at Mysore as one of the two seats from where to himself contest should another grandson, Prajwal Revanna, 28, join the poll fray from the family pocketborough of Hassan.

The second constituency on Deve Gowda's list is Bangalore North parliamentary seat, now represented by the BJP's D V Sadananda Gowda. However, the Congress has five sitting MLAs from here (of nine under the seat) - at least four of them Siddaramaiah loyalists - and the JD(S) only three.

JD(S) sources, however, admitted that the decision on Nikhil Kumaraswamy could depend on how many winnable seats the JD(S) is given in the alliance. "If it is just four to six, it would be awkward to have three members of the family in Parliament (including Deve Gowda)," a party leader said.