Bangalore/New Delhi, Jan. 18: The Congress-led coalition in Karnataka appeared tonight to be on its way out after being stunned by a revolt in the Janata Dal(S), its partner, from which a large section broke away and staked claim to form a new government.
Sonia Gandhi’s party was taken completely by surprise as the drama began to unfold rapidly in the evening and spun out of control.
Kumaraswamy, the son of former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda who heads the JD(S), led the revolt, meeting governor T.N. Chaturvedi with a group of over 40 MLAs.
One estimate suggested Kumaraswamy had as many as 50 of the 53 JD(S) members.
The same group first informed the governor of its decision to withdraw support to the 18-month-old Dharam Singh ministry.
Although Gowda sent a letter to the governor, saying Kumaraswamy was not the true representative of the party, observers found it hard to believe so many MLAs would have switched sides without the former Prime Minister’s blessing.
Kumaraswamy was backed by the BJP, two of whose leaders accompanied him when he went to meet the governor. With 79 MLAs, the BJP’s support is enough for Gowda’s son to install a government by breasting the half-way tape at 113 in the 224-member Assembly.
Snatching Karnataka from the Congress will give the BJP a taste of revenge because Assembly elections in the state were held simultaneously with Lok Sabha polls in 2004 when the party lost power at the Centre.
Besides, despite emerging as the single largest party in the state, it could not form the government as Gowda went with the Congress.
Gowda’s numbers shrank with the expulsion of former deputy chief minister Siddaramaiah and four MLAs, the group with which the Congress has been hobnobbing.
Late tonight, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was meeting home minister Shivraj Patil and defence minister Pranab Mukherjee to work out the Karnataka strategy.
Sources said the Congress wanted to go to polls, allying with Siddaramaiah and ditching Gowda, with whom it has not quite hit it off.
In the recent zilla parishad elections, Siddaramaiah’s group came third, after the Congress and BJP and ahead of Gowda.
The Congress seems to believe if Assembly polls are held now, it can win in a combine with Siddaramaiah.
It is possible that the JD(S) struck fearing such a move. Gowda may be working with his son as a front because he does not want to be seen to be directly allying with the BJP, having picked “S” for secular to differentiate his party from numerous other Janata Dals.
In the letter to the governor, he said his party still backed the coalition. “I am the JD(S) national president. Your excellency should not take cognisance of the letters of support given by party MLAs through Kumaraswamy.”
But BJP central leader M. Venkaiah Naidu, camping here, said the party had already worked out a power-sharing plan with Kumaraswamy.
Under the formula, Gowda’s son will head the government for the first 20 months and the BJP for the next 20. While one side holds the chief ministership, the other will have a deputy chief minister and the Speaker.
Caught on the wrong foot, the Dharam Singh cabinet met in the evening ahead of the Assembly session beginning tomorrow.
“Everything is okay,” Dharam said after the emergency meeting, which was attended by only three of the JD(S)’s 14 ministers.
With the Assembly session starting tomorrow, a test of strength in the House looks a more credible option before the governor, an appointee of the Vajpayee regime. In a strange coincidence, Chaturvedi, who as the comptroller and auditor general had authored the report that gave momentum to the Bofors controversy, is back in the news when the scandal is revisiting the Congress.
Not only is Chaturvedi unlikely to do the Centre’s bidding, Manmohan Singh would also think twice before taking any step that invites further censure after the mishandling in Jharkhand and Bihar.