There is a cliche in English called a "Pyrrhic victory" -- a reference to a victory won at too great a cost to have been worthwhile for the victor. That is the expression that comes to mind after a torrid weekend in Bangalore-turned-Bengaluru when BS Yeddyurappa resigned as chief minister after a fervent speech at the Vidhana Soudha, the seat of Karnataka's assembly after barely two days in office. His place, now taken up by HD Kumaraswamy of the Janata Dal (Secular), has been blessed by a galaxy of regional party leaders aiming to form an anti-BJP front, but there is every indication that the new dispensation is very fragile.
After all, the assembly elections produced a difficult verdict in which the BJP was the leading party with 104 seats but stuck for enough support to claim a true majority in the 225-seat assembly.
What the verdict, in which Congress bagged 78 seats and JD(S)+ 39, proved is that Karnataka's voters have an unconscious, yet uncanny, sense of black humour. Everything in the mandate smacks of divine mischief. With only a year to go for general elections and Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government desperately trying to prove it is not a non-starter in the south, the break-up has produced more questions than answers. My take, in brief, is that the game has shifted mode from a Game of Thrones to the House of Cards -- with apologies to Millennials binge-watching the two popular Web series on Netflix.
Kumaraswamy, son of former prime minister HD Deve Gowda, is bravely denying any talk of rumblings in the coalition cabinet formed with Congress but even as he was set to be sworn in, Congress leader DK Shivakumar, the very wealthy shepherd of party, guarded MLAs from horse trading after the BJP was invited to form the government by its friendly governor Vaijubhai Vala, was speaking of "swallowing bitterness" to help his Congress support the JDS.
Just a few days earlier, his party boss, Rahul Gandhi, said the S in Janata Dal-S stood for "Sangh Parivar" though its official tag is "Secular". Therefore, make no mistake: What we have here is a marriage of convenience that just about avoided a shotgun wedding or a horseback abduction of Congress and/or JD-S legislators by Amit Shah, BJP's effervescent president -- a la Prithviraj Chauhan in the Hindu lore that the BJP is so fond of. Chauhan abducted his would-be bride because she loved him. Shah is far less blessed but far more shrewd.
The overwhelming strength of the BJP at a national level should definitely keep Congress and JDS together as parties, but then it is wise to ask if they are really organisations or not at the Karnataka level. Amit Shah has said boldly that 15 days would have been enough for the BJP to arrange for more seats to prop up Yeddyurappa. It was the Supreme Court that converted the vote from a 15-day affair to two days, effectively reducing a political cricket Test match into an unwinnable Twenty20 game for the BJP.
Whether Shah is a horse-trader or not, whether he is a horseback Prithviraj Chauhan out to kidnap MLAs like they were coy brides or not, the hard reality of Karnataka politics is that two communities, the Lingayats and the Vokkaligas, continue to be parallel "parties within parties" in state politics -- and this means there is room for manoeuvre for Shah (or, as his opponents will say, manipulation).
If Yeddyurappa's speech and promises for farmers are any indication, the BJP is moving to woo the Vokkaligas, who are predominantly farmers, and there is every reason to believe that the BJP has enough tricks in its bags to split the JD (S) into two in the assembly where it has only 39 seats.
The naming of a Dalit deputy chief minister, G Parameshwara, from the Congress, only shows a balancing act that may not last long. The Lingayats were said to be demanding a deputy CM's slot in the coalition cabinet. It will be very difficult for Deve Gowda, his son or the Congress to keep on yielding to the community's demands. The Lingayats are a fluid lot despite defeated chief minister Siddaramaiah's audacious attempt to give them the status of a minority religion. They have their own "Hindutva" side that the BJP is bound to exploit.
As general elections draw near, some MLAs at least will be mapping out their future gains in their respective constituencies. Some of them are plum material for horse trading in one form or the other.
Some MLAs who were kept confined by Shivakumar the Shepherd in luxury hotels before Yeddyurappa's resignation are likely to miss out on the political gravy train in Kumaraswamy's cabinet. They will be prime targets for Amit Shah's come-hither looks.
What might swing things towards the Congress and the JD-S as parties would be a ground-level agreement based on policies and programmes with which they could go together to the electorate in 2019 -- no matter what individual MLAs do or not. That is where the two parties are bound to be helped by the likes of BSP leader Mayawati, West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee and other anti-BJP regional chieftains who lined up for Kumaraswamy's swearing-in ceremony. If the glue of possibly winning power in New Delhi in 2019 is stronger than the pickaxe power of Amit Shah's halted juggernaut, the pre-poll alliance might hold. But Kumarswamy's government is likely to remain a House of Cards, vulnerable to monsoon winds set to blow towards Bangalore next month. This is a strange victory, doomed from the word go.
(Madhavan Narayanan is a senior journalist who has covered politics, diplomacy, business, technology and other subjects in a long career that has spanned organisations including Reuters, Business Standard and Hindustan Times. He is currently an independent columnist, editor and commentator. He is listed among the top 200 Indian influencers on Twitter. He tweets as @madversity)
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL.)