Is there a tacit understanding between BJP and Janata Dal (S) in Karnataka? With just more than a week left for the Karnataka assembly election, this question hangs in the air. It's actually surprising that this question has gained the kind of traction it's got. If at all BJP and JD (S) have a truck, how come they let it become a public talking point? That the Janata Dal would support BJP in the event of a hung assembly had been factored in. What was not really expected was the open, public currency the alliance question has got in the pre-poll phase.
It's baffling that the utterances that validated the pre-poll alliance chatter came from none other than Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself. In one of his stump speeches on Monday the prime minister chose to pointedly attack Rahul Gandhi over his lack of respect for Janata Dal supremo Deve Gowda.
"But I heard the Congress president speak at political rallies 15-20 days ago....the way he referred to respected Deve Gowda ji....is this your culture? This is arrogance. "Your life (as Congress president) has just started. Deve Gowda is among the tallest leaders of the country. You are insulting him," Modi said.
Modi's attack on Rahul over the latter's treatment of Gowda was quite unlike the regular Modi line. It was a bit phoney, tacky and had a sticky drooling tone around it. "There is something called decorum in public life. Every person may have his own ego, but in social life there are certain values ... Whenever he comes to meet me in Delhi, I make it a point to receive him at the entrance of my home...open the door of the car for him. I also see him off up to his car," the PM revealed. More than political wooing, it was some apple polishing on display.
He was referring to Rahul's allegation a fortnight ago that JD (S) was BJP's B-team. Whatever was the PM's intent, the result was that his mollycoddling Deve Gowda made it look like BJP unabashedly scouting for partnership -- pre-poll or post-poll.
The impact of such a deal can be telling. Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, who is locked in the fight of his life in Chamundeshwari, knows full well that a BJP-Janata Dal understanding will lead to his loss there. Such a pact can even upset his son's apple cart in Varuna as well. So he has decided to go for the jugular, in his own inimitable style.
"During Lok Sabha elections, Modi had stated that Deve Gowda needed old-age care and is now praising him. BJP and JD(S) are not blaming each other now. BJP and JD(S) have joined hands in Chamundeshwari, Varuna, KR Nagar and other constituencies. But, they cannot defeat me, as I have people's support," Siddaramaiah said on Wednesday, Deccan Herald reported.
Modi's fulsome praise, and Amit Shah's attentions, can be a double-edged sword for Janata Dal -- at least Deve Gowda knows that. The prospect of JD (S) helping BJP wrest power in Karnataka can easily result in an erosion in its key Muslim minority vote bank in the old Mysore belt.
Even as rumours flew thick and fast that HD Kumaraswamy had a secret meeting with Amit Shah, Gowda had responded by saying that his son would be out of the party and family if he had any understanding with the BJP. That's obviously too lofty a promise, but the former prime minister knows his cards.
Meanwhile, the Kumaraswamy camp has been pointedly making claims that he's the chief minister in waiting. That's also a tall promise, considering that his party may get a maximum 40 seats in the 224-member assembly. His JD (S) doesn't have strong presence outside of its Old Mysore home turf. But, if HDK gets some 40 MLAs in a hung assembly the BJP could even offer him the CM's post. And for BJP, it still can be a win-win situation. With strategist Amit Shah at the helm, it can even engineer a split in JD (S) camp and grab power in a year.
As per the latest opinion survey Congress holds on to a tenuous lead. But if it falls short of clear simple majority, the party is certainly out of power.
Two developments in the BJP camp suggest that the party is preparing for a post-poll alliance with Dal. First, well into the campaign phase, the notion of BS Yeddyurappa's unquestioned dominance in the party was punctured. First, his son was denied seat in Varuna. And then the party decided that the PM and Amit Shah wouldn't share stage with him in many campaign pit stops.
If BJP has more than 80 seats in a hung assembly it will form the government -- and with a CM of its own. In that scenario, it's likely that the CM will be someone other than Yeddyurappa. It would have been blasphemous to say so a month ago. But the latest dynamics suggest that the party is preparing ground for such an eventuality.
If BJP's tally is lower, they will let HDK form a short-lived government. The Goa and Meghalaya examples showed that BJP was determined to form governments even in places it squarely lost.
By keeping Congress at bay in Karnataka, even for a while, Amit Shah can go so close to the goal of a 'Congress-mukt' India. The sort of mileage this will give his party in the assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan won't be negligible.