“We have committed a hara-kiri”, said a Congress leader on Thursday, a day after Congress chief Rahul Gandhi ceded eight Lok Sabha seats to alliance partner JDS in Karnataka.
He said he was echoing the sentiments of lakhs of Congress workers across Karnataka. After a month long deliberations, the Congress and JDS finalised a 20-8 seat agreement in the state which they have been ruling together for the past nine months now.
Even though none of the top leaders of the Congress have voiced their concerns openly about the deal, the discomfort is visible. The state Congress leadership was not ready to cede more than six seats and the talks had hit a roadblock.
JDS supremo and former Prime Minister HD Deve Gowda flew to New Delhi to clinch a deal with Rahul Gandhi last week and managed to secure eight seats for his party.
The JDS, which has 37 MLAs as against Congress’s 80 in the state Assembly, is a sub-regional party concentrated only in just six districts of the old Mysore region. Even though it has won a handful of seats from rest of Karnataka, its presence is negligible there.
Besides Gowda bastions of Hassan and Mandya Lok Sabha seats, the JDS has secured Tumkur, which is currently held by the Congress. It has also managed to secure Bengaluru North where the Congress has five MLAs as against JDS’ two.
What has shocked the state Congress is JDS getting Udupi- Chickmagalur, Uttara Kannada and Vijayapur/Bijapur besides Shimoga seats. Though the JDS looks formidable in Tumkur and can put up a good fight in Bengaluru North, its chances are almost negligible in the remaining four seats.
State Congress leadership is worried about losing the base in these seats and also possible mass defection of its local leaders to the BJP because of the alliance. They feel that the Congress which always polled about 40% votes in these seats will lose its ground and this may actually help the BJP to consolidate its number one position.
A Congress leader from Vijayapura (reserved for SC candidates) said that the JDS was a distant third there and it would help the BJP to win the seat easily. “Many Congress workers won’t work for the JDS candidate. They may back the BJP or remain neutral. It helps the BJP. The JDS has nothing to lose and the Congress has everything to lose,” he said.
The situation is no different in Uttara Kannada, currently held by union minister Ananthkumar Hegde, Shimoga currently held by state BJP chief BS Yeddyurappa’s son BY Raghavendra and Udupi – Chickmagalur, held by BJP firebrand Shobha Karandlaje.
“Except Shimoga, the JDS does not even have suitable candidates who can fight the BJP. We could have given a good fight at least. How can we convince our workers to fight for the JDS?” an office bearer of the Congress asked.
In Bengaluru North, all five Congress MLAs are reportedly upset with the seat going to the JDS. The JDS sources claim that Deve Gowda would be contesting his 15th election from here. Some argue that the party patriarch may shift to a much safer Tumkur as he is not confident of winning an election from a city seat.
Even in JDS fiefdoms of Hassan and Mandya, Congress workers are openly opposing Gowda fielding his two grandsons in the elections. The Congress is fearing a serious backlash by the local leaders and workers in this election.
For the record both Congress and the JDS are dismissing these resentments as minor misunderstandings. The state Congress president Dinesh Gundurao said that all is well and together they will fight to defeat the BJP.
Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy told News18 that discontent was a media creation and he was confident of a good showing by the Congress and JDS combine. “Our aim is to defeat the BJP. It is true that we have made some adjustments here and there. It was needed in the larger interest. We will defeat the BJP by winning more than 22 seats in Karnataka,” he said.
Some in the Congress even suspect that JDS may back BJP-led NDA at the Centre if Modi is voted back to power. “Last time they won two seats. We won nine seats. This time JDS may win four seats at the expense of the Congress. We are not sure of winning at least nine seats this time. What is the guarantee that the JDS won’t go with the BJP after elections?”, a Congress leader said.
The Congress-JDS seat sharing seems to have re-energized the BJP which has already launched a high decibel campaign to beat the alliance, which it calls “unholy”.
“The JDS and Congress workers don’t like each other at local levels. Leaders can share seats in Delhi. On the ground it will not work. The BJP will surely win more than 22 seats from Karnataka this time” Yeddyurappa told News18.
On paper the JDS-Congress alliance looks stronger as they have a combined vote share of about 58%. But the transfer of votes from Congress to JDS and JDS to Congress is a tricky issue and may not happen in a large scale argue many experts on politics in the state.