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DK Shivakumar, the man who kept the Congress flock together in Karanataka

It was the BJP’s strategists versus the Congress-JD(S) ones. In this round, clearly the Congress-JD(S) ones came off victors, although if not for the intervention of the Supreme Court

Karnataka Elections 2018 Updated: May 20, 2018 07:24 IST
Venkatesha Babu
Venkatesha Babu
Hidnustan Times, Bengaluru
Karnataka government,Congress-JD(S) alliance,DK Shivakumar
JD(S) leader H D Kumaraswamy with Congress leader D K Shivakumar celebrate after chief minister BS Yediyurappa announced his resignation before the floor test, at Vidhana Soudha, in Bengaluru, on May 19.(PTI Photo)

The defining image of Saturday, after Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader BS Yeddyurappa resigned as chief minister after it became clear he would be unable to muster a majority, was of Janata Dal(Secular) leader HD Kumaraswamy hugging his bete-noire-turned-best-friend , the Congress ‘strongman’ DK Shivakumar. For long-time watches of Karnataka politics, this image would have been unthinkable even a few months ago. Sworn rivals, both fighting to be recognised as the tallest leader of the Vokkaliga community from which they hail, Kumaraswamy and Shivakumar had come together to ensure the defeat of the BJP government.

The moves and counter-moves of the past three days are straight out of a Sandalwood (the Kannada movie industry) thriller. It was the BJP’s strategists versus the Congress-JD(S) ones. In this round, clearly the Congress-JD(S) ones came off victors, although if not for the intervention of the Supreme Court, which insisted that the vote be held in a day’s notice rather than a fortnight the governor had given, the outcome may well have been different. Still, even that was smart legal tactics by the Congress.

Neither the BJP nor the Congress-JD(S) combination lacked people who indulge in realpolitik. For the BJP, from behind the scenes, the famed Ballari Reddy brothers along with their close friend B S Sriramulu -- the three had helped salvage the first BJP government in Karnataka in 2008 from a similar predicament when the party was short of a majority – deployed their bag of tricks.

This time though, unlike 2008, the BJP faced a united challenge from the Congress-JD(S) combination which not only responded in kind but unleashed its own mind-games. On the Congress-JD(S) side, the man who took control of the situation was former energy minister in Siddaramaiah’s cabinet, Shivakumar.The moment the governor issued the invitation to the BJP, he had the Congress MLAs bundled away in Eagleton Golf Resort associated with him. The MLAs were under the eagle-eye watch of his younger brother and Lok Sabha member DK Suresh.

For the resourceful Shivakumar, this was just a replay of what he did for his party when Congress high command sought his services to keep Gujarat MLAs safe during last year’s Rajya Sabha polls.

Then too the MLAs had been housed at the Eagleton Resort located at Bidadi on the outskirts of Bengaluru.

Once Yeddyurappa took over, he withdrew the police and security cover at Eagleton. Shivakumar then had them moved to Hyderabad, while sources in the party deliberately misled media and opponents, that they were headed to Kochi, Puducherry, even far away Punjab that has a Congress government. Initially they tried to have them flown to Hyderabad, but they subsequently bussed it there.

Dinesh Gundu Rao the working president of the KPCC, claimed DGCA had denied clearance to their flight. Apart from his brother, Shivakumar was also aided by the party’s newly minted MLA from Chamrajpet, Zameer Ahmed Khan. Zameer who owns a bus transport company, ensured that his fleet was available at all times for the services of his party. He too had played a similar role while in the JD(S) and had himself driven a bus full of rebel JD(S) MLAs in 2006 who, ironically, joined hands with the BJP to make Yedyurappa the deputy chief minister and Kumaraswamy the CM.

Another quiet, behind-the-scenes player, was the former home minister KJ George . When the MLAs returned from Hyderabad for voting, they were kept from any prying eyes at the Hilton Hotel owned by his business partner and billionaire Jitu Virwani.

Meanwhile Kumaraswamy, who likes to take charge himself, had ensured that all his MLAs were sequestered at the Shangri-La hotel. Old party hand GT Deve Gowda, who did a giant killing act against Siddaramaiah, co-ordinated with Congress when the time to move the MLAs to Hyderabad came.

To ensure morale remained high, the Congress –JD(S) camp floated the rumour that Preetham Gowda, the lone BJP MLA from Hassan district, was ready to switch sides, and said others would join him soon. In an environment when nothing was clear to anybody, including the MLAs, the media took everything coming out of each camp and ran with it.

Reddy bothers and Yeddy himself

Still, if the BJP eventually lost out, it was not for want of trying. While BJP president Amit Shah may have declared Janardhan Reddy to be persona non grata, the mining baron actively tried to woo Congress MLAs from North Karnataka. As did Sriramulu. The Congress has released tapes that it alleges proves that inducements were offered to MLAs.

Even Yeddyurappa himself, the Congress alleged, offered blandishments to some MLAs. While the authenticity of the tapes cannot be verified, it is a fact that BJP tried to get some MLAs across.

For a couple of days the disappearance from public view of Anand Singh , the MLA from Vijaynagar and Pratapgouda Patil, the MLA from Maski, resulted in all kinds of conjectures on how they would vote. Eventually none of it was required as the BJP and Yeddyurappa accepted defeat by resigning instead of putting the motion to vote. The Congress-JD(S) strategists had clearly won over their BJP counterparts. At least, for the moment.

First Published: May 20, 2018 07:24 IST