Can Once-Divorced JD(S)-Congress Make Their New Marriage Work?

The alliance between the Congress and BJP lasted only 615 days in 2004. Even though both parties were successful in amicably sorting out power-sharing equations, the differences that cropped over the next one year resulted in the collapse of the hung government and the BJP coming to power with the support of the JD(S).

After the floor test on Friday (25 May), both parties will decide the seat-sharing formula for the 2018 JD(S)-Congress coalition. As per the deal announced so far, the Congress will be get 22 ministerial berths, including the posts of the Deputy Chief Minister and the Speaker.

But the uneasiness of leaders like DK Shivakumar – who played key roles in creating the coalition – over the allocation of portfolio cast a shadow over the future of the coalition.

The portfolio decisions made by the leaders of both parties and individual leaders’ willingness to set aside their ambition in favour of the party high command’s orders, are what will decide the future of this coalition – and the promises of the grand national alliance.

The Eerily Similar Circumstances

JD(S) Supremo HD Deve Gowda and Karnataka JD(S) president HD Kumaraswamy.

The circumstances leading to the formation of the first Congress-JD(S) coalition government in 2004 was eerily similar to those in 2018. Just like in 2018, before the elections, Deve Gowda had ruled out coalition with either of the parties. But after the elections, for the sake of the keeping the ‘communal’ BJP away from power, decided to bury their differences with the Congress.

A power-sharing formula was worked out, where the Congress kept Chief Minister’s post and while the JD(S) leaders kept major portfolios such as Home and Finance. The post of Deputy Chief Minister as well was offered to the JD(S).

And on 28 May 2004, when Congress’ Dharam Singh took oath as the Chief Minister, the BJP decided to boycott the ceremony.

The Falling Apart

Even though the government functioned smoothly in the initial months, the differences surfaced after 20 weeks. The Congress not joining hands with the JD(S) in the Panchayat elections was the first step towards the rift.

Deve Gowda’s indirect allegation of the corruption against some Congress leaders and JD(S) internal politics, where Siddaramaiah was shunted out by Deve Gowda, strained the relationship between the two parties.

Governance was the casualty of the gulf between the parties and eventually, Kumaraswamy, against the wishes of his father, left the Congress and joined hands with the BJP.

The Larger Purpose Applies Only to Congress

Newly sworn-in Karnataka Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy, Andhra Pradesh CM N Chandrababu Naidu, AICC President Rahul Gandhi, West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) leader Mayawati and Congress leader Sonia Gandhi wave after the swearing-in ceremony, in Bengaluru, on Wednesday, 23 May, 2018. 

The Congress and JD(S) leaders insist that the situation is different this time. Both parties have come together with the purpose of the keeping the BJP away from power in both state and the centre, they claim.

Even the swearing-in ceremony on the Wednesday saw a congregation of regional party leaders from across the country and was dubbed the first step towards the grand alliance against the BJP ahead of the Lok Sabha elections.

But the fact remains that for the Congress, the survival of the coalition in Karnataka is important to mount a counter-attack against the BJP in the Lok Sabha elections. “It’s not the case with the JD(S). The ambition of the party has been limited to Karnataka,” said A Narayana of Azim Premji University.

In such a scenario, the Congress will have to put up with the irritants, if they are any. “Deve Gowda might be against the JD(S) joining hands with the BJP, but it remains an option for Kumaraswamy. If the Congress party interferes with his governance, he could always walk out. So, it is the Congress party that has a lot at stake,” he added.

Individual Leaders Ambition Over Party’s Command

DK Shivakumar wants a plum portfolio or the post of Congress chief. 

A day ahead of the floor test, DK Shivakumar’s uneasiness with the party is the big topic of discussion. According to reports, the man responsible for single-handedly keeping the Congress-JD(S) MLAs together, is unhappy about his party not rewarding him well enough.

A day before the swearing-in, along with brother DK Suresh and supporters, Shivakumar had vacated the Hilton Hotel, where the all Congress MLAs are currently lodged.

He also expressed displeasure over not getting the minister posts he asked for, to AICC president Rahul Gandhi after Kumaraswamy’s swearing-in. He was expected to be sworn-in as a minister along with the Parameshwara or be elevated as the state Congress President.

There are around 8 leaders in the Congress party who, over the years, had left the JD(S) to join Congress, fearing being sidelined.

The big question of whether Congress and JD(S) leadership will be able to keep their leaders satisfied remains. “The party leadership may want to create a grand opposition to the BJP ahead of 2018. But that will not stop party leaders from advancing their personal ambitions,” said a Congress MLA.

But the portfolio allocations will only be first step towards survival of the coalition. With the more than 10 months to go for the Lok Sabha elections, it will be the Congress who will have to make the bigger sacrifices in the marriage.

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