Top Congress leaders not in hurry to jump gun in Karnataka

New Delhi, Dec 2

With the crucial bypolls to 15 Karnataka Assembly constituencies set for December 5 and the counting to take place on December 9, hectic political action is underway as the results could cause upheaval in the state where both the Congress and the JD-S are eyeing to topple the BJP government led by Chief Minister B.S. Yedyurappa.

Congress sources say that they are not in a hurry but will wait for the outcome of the results that will decide which way the party will move forward. The party is non-committal at this moment about the Janata Dal-Secular (JD-S) for if its numbers increase in the Assembly, it will have better bargaining capacity as it is not willing to concede the Chief Minister's chair to the JD-S again.

A senior Congress leader and former General Secretary, who did not wish to be identified, said: "Anything is possible after the results and we should consider rejoining hands with the JD-S for keeping the BJP at bay."

While party leaders from Karnataka are not averse to joining hands with the JD-S -- though the two parties are both contesting against each other in the bypolls -- the party high command is cautious about predicting the state's future political contours ahead of the bypolls.

The Congress has given the reins to former Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, who is not in favour of aligning with the JD-S, so much will depend on how things unfold, a leader said.

State leaders are, however, advocating a Maharashtra-like tie-up. Senior Congress leader V.S. Ugrappa told media that they "are open to tie up again with the JD-S if we win majority of seats in the Assembly by-elections, as our sole aim is to keep the BJP out of power as we did in Maharashtra despite ideological differences with the Shiv Sena."

The by-elections were necessitated due to the disqualification of the 14 Congress and 3 JD-S rebel legislators after they resigned from their Assembly seats in July in protest against the functioning of the H.D. Kumaraswamy-led JD-S-Congress coalition government.

Their resignations led to the fall of the 14-month-old coalition government on July 23 as Kumaraswamy failed to win the confidence motion he had moved on July 18.

However, bypolls are only being held in 15 seats as by-elections in two Assembly segments -- Muski (Raichur district) and R.R. Nagar (Bengaluru) -- have been withheld due to litigation in the Karnataka High Court over their results in the May 2018 Assembly elections.

After vote count on December 9, the ruling BJP, which has 105 members including a supporting Independent but excluding the Speaker, needs at least seven seats to have a simple majority of 112 in the 225-member Assembly, whose strength will be 223 due to pending by-elections for two seats.

The Congress, which had 80 members, including former Speaker K.R. Ramesh Kumar, has 66 after losing 14 members and the JD-S, which had 37, has 34 after losing 3 members. Both the parties have a combined strength of 100 and will need 12 more seats to stake claim for power again in the southern state.

A split verdict in May 2018 Assembly elections threw up a hung house, resulting in the Congress and JD-S finally forming a coalition government on May 23, 2018 as post-poll allies after Yedyurappa, who was sworn-in on May 17, resigned on May 19, without taking the floor test as his three-day government was eight seats short of a majority.