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Inscrutable Deve Gowda
Continues to Surprise
|by V. S. Karnic|
"Gowdru Yaavaga yava Dala haaktare antha yaarige goththu" (Who can say which dice Gowda will cast when) has almost become a proverb in Kannada for some years now.
The Janata Dal-Secular (JD-S) chief H.D. Deve Gowda proved it again Saturday by supporting his son and former chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy in backing a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government in Karnataka.
The BJP, which has at long last realised its cherished dream to rule a state in the south, will do so only as long as Gowda wants. And as all politicians realised when he was prime minister in 1996-97, none can say what Gowda will want tomorrow. "Inscrutable" was the word used most often to describe him then.
Even today, none will venture to guess what Gowda will do tomorrow. But Saturday's dramatic move of the JD-S to extend support to a government led by the BJP is being seen as a desperate attempt by the Gowda family to avoid being marginalized further in state politics.
The party has slipped down from its secular pedestal quickly indeed.
Only three weeks back, the JD-S had refused to honour its word to hand over the chief minister's post to the BJP on the ground that the latter could not be trusted to maintain communal peace in the state.
The JD-S statement then had come after it ran a government for 20 months in alliance with the BJP.
It was Kumaraswamy who defied his father in February 2006 to form an alliance with the BJP and become chief minister. When taking over power, he had promised the BJP that he would vacate his post for his ally after 20 months -- on Oct 3 this year.
But as the deadline to keep his promise approached, Kumaraswamy and his father started questioning whether the BJP could be trusted to follow secular policies.
When Kumaraswamy did not quit on Oct 3, the BJP withdrew support forcing him to quit on Oct 8. The state was brought under president's rule and the assembly placed in suspended animation the next day.
The 225-member assembly still has 20 months left and a majority of legislators irrespective of party affiliation are against early polls.
This feeling is particularly intense in JD-S as its legislators fear facing the voters who are angry with the party's refusal to honour its word on transfer of power to BJP.
The JD-S legislators have been mounting pressure on party leaders to take steps to avoid early polls though Gowda has been saying he is in favour of it.
Angered by Gowda's pronouncements, a group of legislators persuaded senior JD-S leader and former state home minister M.P. Prakash to take the lead in talking to the Congress on a possible alternative government.
But Gowda struck before Prakash could do much, except be taken aback by Saturday's announcement. He has said he will oppose it, though Kumaraswamy has announced he will "take him along" in his party's new moves.
Though Prakash did not have the backing of all JD-S legislators, it was expected that an overwhelming majority would back him once Sonia Gandhi gave a green signal. This would have resulted in the Gowda family being sidelined.
The BJP had already launched a high-voltage state-wide campaign on Oct 8, appealing to people to end the family politics of the Gowdas and teach a befitting lesson to "Vachana Brashtas" (people who dishonour their word).
The credibility of the Gowda family had fallen so low that both state BJP and Congress were publicly telling JD-S legislators that if they kept the family away, government formation would be a smooth affair.
Now, by swiftly moving to scuttle Prakash's mission, the Gowdas are hoping to score several political points.
First, they will be placating the politically powerful Lingayat community, which is upset that Kumaraswamy had denied the post of chief minister to a member of the community, B.S. Yediyurappa, by refusing to keep his promise.
Now, if Governor Rameshwar Thakur agrees to invite the BJP to form the government, Yediyurappa will be the chief minister.
Second, Kumaraswamy hopes to salvage his image, which had taken a severe beating as he failed to honour his word.
Third, he can continue to accuse the Congress of trying to destroy JD-S, a charge he made when he brought down the Congress-JD-S government in February 2006.
Fourth, his family will continue to control JD-S and no legislator will dare go against his or his father's wishes.
Fifth, if the governor does not allow formation of a BJP-led government, the blame for denying a Lingayat the post of chief minister will shift to the Congress, as it is in power at the centre.
Sixth, the BJP will be at the mercy of JD-S to stay in power and the sting has gone out of its plans to capitalise on possible public sympathy for the JD-S "betrayal".
The next act in the Karnataka saga has just begun.
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