New Karnataka Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy must surely be realising that what he has finally appropriated for himself after a great deal of deception and wheeling dealing is a crown of thorns while his claim to being a principled politician lies in tatters.
Although he and Congress Dalit heavyweight G Parmeshwar have been sworn in, the induction of the rest of the council of ministers is in limbo, hostage to the whims and fancies of the Congress which itself is in hibernation with the dynasts Sonia and Rahul Gandhi taking off on an overseas trip ostensibly for Sonia’s medical check-up.
It is just the beginning of the coalition but party moneybag and former senior minister D K Shivakumar has made it plain that there was no stipulation while agreeing to its formation that Kumaraswamy will be chief minister for the entire period of five years.
The coalition partners are jockeying for key positions in the Cabinet and on present indications, the Congress wants to corner for itself all the plum Cabinet posts, leaving a few lollypops for the Janata Dal-Secular of Kumaraswamy. As it is, what Kumaraswamy has agreed to is 22 ministers from the Congress and only 12 from the JD-S. Even with such numbers, the Congress is sticky about getting all plum positions.
Tutored by his father Deve Gowda that the Congress would be a more pliable partner than the BJP, Kumaraswamy had persuaded himself to believe that he could recapture the old glory of 1994 when the undivided Janata Dal had won a high 115 seats with a vote share of 33.54 per cent or at least something higher than the 58 seats it (JD-S) managed with a 20.77 per cent vote share in 2004.
As things stand, the Congress is not the same that he knew of when he was deputy to chief minister Dharam Singh in the mid-1990s. It is a far hungrier party that is impatient about all sorts of gains it wants to make at the cost of its coalition partner. Far from being a sleeping partner that Kumaraswamy thought it would be, it is aggressive and ambitious and baying for more.
When the party high command decided to hand over the pole position to Kumaraswamy, the Congress state leadership acquiesced grudgingly, reconciling itself to being in power for some time as the second party but actually calling the shots.
There are many fence-sitters in the Congress waiting to see whether they would get positions of power and pelf before they start opposing Kumaraswamy for not living up to their expectations.
Shivakumar is like Kumaraswamy of Vokkaliga caste and would not brook the former walking away with the crown of the main representative of the influential community in the Kumaraswamy government. The Lingayats, some of whom, had gravitated towards the Congress after former chief minister Siddaramaiah promised the moon to the caste in the shape of a separate religious identity are now beginning to have second thoughts.
So abject has been Kumaraswamy’s plight a mere week after he was sworn in that he acknowledges that he is at the mercy of the Congress and would follow that party’s dictates. Wily and unprincipled as he is, he cannot be taken at face value, but the very fact that he is having to struggle and plead that he be given the Finance portfolio speaks for itself. Gone is the swagger that characterised him.
That the Kumaraswamy government would be non-cohesive is quite on the cards and that many whose disgruntlement would be aroused by the denial of ministerial posts would be amenable to BJP lures is a possibility.
But the BJP itself may like to allow public disenchantment to build up before it takes any measures to forge an alternative. With the 2019 general elections less than a year away, it would not like anything that identifies the party as a party out to bring about the fall of a Congress-JD(S) government.