HD Kumaraswamy - the kingmaker who became the king

Janata Dal-Secular leader HD Kumaraswamy today took oath as Karnataka's 24th Chief Minister.

HD Kumaraswamy - the kingmaker who became the king

Bengaluru: "I will be the king and not the kingmaker," HD Kumaraswamy, who today took oath as Karnataka's 24th Chief Minister, had said in the run-up to the crucial assembly elections in this southern state. 

His words proved prophetic as the 58-year-old Vokkaliga leader on Wednesday wore the crown despite his JD(S) finishing a poor third in the electoral battlefield.

On the margins of Karnataka politics for a decade, Kumaraswamy, the third son of JD(S) supremo and former prime minister HD Deve Gowda, was widely tipped to play a supporting role in government formation, but nobody gave him even an outside chance of landing the chief minister's chair.

As the counting of votes progressed on May 15, and it became clear that there would be no straight winner in the three-horse race for power, fate smiled on Kumaraswamy.

A badly bruised Congress, which failed to form its governments in Goa, Manipur and Meghalaya despite being the single largest party, moved in swiftly and declared it would unconditionally prop up a JD(S) government despite the party having only 37 MLAs, less than half the Congress's strength of 78.

Kumaraswamy quickly lapped up the opportunity and staked claim to form the government.

Governor Vajubhai Vala, however, swore-in BJP's BS Yeddyurappa to form the government as the leader of the single largest party in the 224-member Assembly, whose effective strength is 221.

Vala's decision could only delay Kumaraswamy's ascension to the Karnataka throne, as Yeddyurappa, facing an imminent defeat during the trust vote, resigned within three days of being sworn in.

By a quirk of fate, 'Kumaranna', who served as the chief minister for 20 months in 2006-07 at the head of a JD (S)-BJP government, and his party, have been catapulted to the forefront of efforts for cobbling together a broad-based anti-BJP front ahead of the Lok Sabha polls.

A galaxy of leaders including UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, Congress chief Rahul Gandhi, NCP's Sharad Pawar, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury attended the event.

Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav and BSP supremo Mayawati, who have sewn up an alliance in Uttar Pradesh, were among the first to arrive on stage.

Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu, his Kerala counterpart Pinarayi Vijayan, RJD supremo Lalu Prasad's son Tejashwi Yadav, former Jharkhand chief minister Hemant Soren and RLD leader Ajit Singh were among those present to fete the leader, who until a few days ago was perceived as one who would end up being an also-ran.

Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown, goes the proverb.

Though Kumaraswamy has managed to be back at the helm of affairs in Karnataka, managing the contradictions in the coalition may not be a smooth sailing for him after the JD(S) and Congress fought a bitter electoral battle in the state, particularly in the old Mysuru region.

Kumaraswamy had conceded yesterday that running the coalition government for the next five years would be a "big challenge" for him.

The first task for him would be a smooth expansion of his Council of Ministers, as the Congress would want to have a big share in the ministerial pie as it has more than double the number of MLAs the JD(S) has.

The BJP, with its 104 MLAs would be a formidable Opposition and would do everything to keep the government on its toes.

The BJP, which dubbed the Congress-JD(S) alliance as "unholy", boycotted the oath-taking ceremony and observed an "anti-popular mandate day", sending out a stern message that the bitter fallout of the split electoral verdict would continue to dog the state's politics for a long time to come.

Seen as an "accidental politician", Kumaraswamy's first love was films.

A fan of Kannada thespian Dr Rajkumar, he was attracted to the cinema since his college days. He took up film-making and distribution and produced several successful Kannada films, including the recently released "Jaguar", starring his son Nikhil Gowda.

Kumaraswamy, who grew up in a political environment, entered electoral politics by contesting the Kanakapura Lok Sabha seat in 1996 and won. He subsequently lost both parliamentary and assembly elections.

He got elected to the assembly for the first time in 2004, when the JD(S) joined the coalition government headed by Congress's Dharm Singh after the elections threw up a hung House.

In 2006, he rebelled and walked out of the coalition with 42 MLAs against the wish of his father, citing threat to the party, and formed the government with the BJP, becoming the chief minister during his very first term as MLA.

Under a rotational chief ministership arrangement, he helmed the state for 20 months. When the BJP's turn for chief ministership came, he reneged on the arrangement, and brought down the Yeddyurappa government within seven days.

In the election that followed in 2008, the BJP formed its government in Karnataka, its first south of the Vindhyas.

Kumaraswamy's outreach to rural folk with 'gram vastavya' project under which he stayed in villages to understand their problems earned him popularity, but he also faced corruption taint in an alleged mining scam.

Kumaraswamy has proved right the adage that politics is the art of the possible, and now the science graduate has to get his chemistry right with the Congress to ensure his government's longevity. 

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