Bengaluru: “I will be the king and not the kingmaker," H.D. Kumaraswamy had said in the run up to the Karnataka elections. His words proved prophetic as the 58-year-old Vokkaliga leader today wore the crown despite his Janata Dal (Secular), or JD(S), finishing third in Karnataka elections.
On the margins of Karnataka politics for a decade, Kumaraswamy, the third son of JD(S) supremo and former prime minister H.D. Deve Gowda, was widely tipped to play a supporting role in Karnataka government formation, but nobody gave him even an outside chance of landing the chief minister’s chair.
As the counting of votes progressed on 15 May, it became clear that there would be no straight winner in the three-horse race for power. The Congress, which failed to form its governments in Goa, Manipur and Meghalaya despite being the single largest party, moved in swiftly and declared it would unconditionally support JD(S) to form the next Karnataka government.
The JD(S) won 37 seats in Karnataka elections to Congress’s 78 and the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) 104. One seat each was won by the Bahujan Samaj Party and an independent.
Kumaraswamy was quick to move and staked claim to form the government. Karnataka governor Vajubhai Vala, however, invited the BJP’s B.S. Yeddyurappa to form the government as he was the leader of the single largest party in the 224-member assembly.
The Congress and JD(S) promptly moved the Supreme Court on 16 May for a midnight hearing. The apex court allowed Yeddyurappa’s swearing-in the next day ordered a floor test 48 hours later.
Yeddyurappa was sworn in as the chief minister on Thursday, 17 May. He skipped the floor test and resigned on Saturday.
The path was now clear for ‘Kumar Anna’s ascent.
On Wednesday, leaders cutting across party lines attended Kumaraswamy’s swearing-in, in what is being seen as a coming together of an anti-BJP alliance for 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
But going forward, the chief minister’s chair will be an uneasy perch for Kumaraswamy as he to manage the alliance of convenience between the JD(S) and the Congress. He has conceded that running the coalition government for the next five years would be a “big challenge" for him. The first task for him would be a smooth expansion of his council of ministers, as the Congress would want to have a big share in the ministerial pie as it has more than double the number of MLAs than the JD(S).
The BJP, with its 104 MLAs, would be a formidable opposition and would do everything to keep the government on its toes. The saffron party, which dubbed the Congress-JD(S) alliance as “unholy", boycotted the oath-taking ceremony and observed Wednesday as an “anti-popular mandate day"—a stern message that the bitter fallout of the split electoral verdict would continue to dog the state’s politics for a long time to come.
Seen as an “accidental politician", Kumaraswamy’s first love was films. A fan of Kannada thespian Dr Rajkumar, he was attracted to cinema since his college days. He took up filmmaking and distribution, and produced several successful Kannada films,including the recently released Jaguar, starring his son Nikhil Gowda. Kumaraswamy, who grew up in a political environment, entered electoral politics by contesting the Kanakapura Lok Sabha seat in 1996 and won.
He lost both the parliamentary and assembly elections thereafter. He got elected to the assembly for the first time in 2004, when the JD(S) joined the coalition government headed by Congress’s Dharm Singh after the elections threw up a hung assembly. In 2006, he rebelled and walked out of the coalition with 42 MLAs against the wishes of his father—citing threat to the party—and formed the government with the BJP. He became the chief minister during his very first term as MLA.
Under a rotational chief minister-ship arrangement, he helmed Karnataka for 20 months. When the BJP’s turn for chief minister-ship came, he reneged on the arrangement, and brought down the Yeddyurappa government within seven days.
In the election that followed in 2008, the BJP formed its government in Karnataka, its first south of the Vindhyas. Kumaraswamy’s outreach to rural folk with the ‘Gram Vastavya’ project, under which he stayed in villages to understand their problems earned him popularity, but he also faced corruption taint in an alleged mining scam.
Kumaraswamy has proved right the adage that politics is the art of the possible, and now the science graduate has to get his chemistry right with the Congress to ensure his government’s longevity.