Contrary to the impression being created by a section of the Congress, it was actually Rahul Gandhi who decided that his party should offer support to H D Kumaraswamy as chief minister to stop the BJP from forming a government in Karnataka.
According to those familiar with behind-the-scenes discussions, it was clear to the Congress leadership on Saturday after polling ended that the party would not win and a hung assembly was likely. This was confirmed by most exit polls.
Following internal discussions within the family and with senior leaders such as Ashok Gehlot and Ghulam Nabi Azad, Rahul called up Kumaraswamy on Sunday itself and suggested the idea of a post-poll understanding in which the Congress would support him as CM. This was followed up by a phone call from Sonia Gandhi to H D Deve Gowda reiterating the same proposal.
There were some senior leaders who felt that the Congress should wait and watch and not be in a hurry to offer the CM’s post to the JD(S) since it would be the larger party. But Rahul was firm. He argued on two points.
One point was that the BJP had to be stopped at all costs. The second point was that since the Congress would be seen as having lost the election, it wouldn’t be right to stake claim to the CM’s post. That should be offered to the JD(S), he insisted.
Negotiations began between the Congress and the father and son duo who lead the JD(S). The duo conveyed to their Congress interlocutors that they would want the Congress to join the government.
Remember, Deve Gowda had a bitter experience with outside support from the Congress when he briefly headed the short lived United Front government in 1996. The Congress withdrew support in less than a year and Deve Gowda lost his prime ministership.
By the time the results started coming in and confirmed what the Congress suspected, an understanding was already in place with the JD(S). Surprisingly, the BJP’s intelligence gathering machine failed to smell this and the saffron party was taken aback by the Congress-JD(S) bromance.
According to Congress sources, Rahul has been in touch with Kumaraswamy and Deve Gowda too since that fateful Sunday and seems to have established a rapport. He even called up Deve Gowda on Friday early morning to wish him although he refrained from mentioning the phone conversation on his Twitter message conveying birthday greetings to the JD(S) patriarch.
Smriti Irani’s luck finally ran out when she crossed swords with Rashtrapati Bhavan over the National Film Awards boycott fiasco. According to highly placed sources, she was stripped of the I & B portfolio because the PMO was annoyed by her ministry’s mishandling of the awards function and the embarrassment caused to President Ram Nath Kovind after 50 odd award winners boycotted it.
Irani was skating on thin ice anyway and those jealous of her meteoric rise in the BJP had started placing bets about the possibility of a portfolio shift. She had ruffled feathers in PIB, Doordarshan and Prasar Bharati, setting off speculation that she could be moved out of the I&B ministry. But she survived.
For some inexplicable reason, she was not pulled up for the ensuing chaos in these organisations and the PMO refused to intervene even when salaries to employees were delayed by several weeks.
Her downfall came only after Rashtrapati Bhavan made its annoyance known over the manner in which Irani’s ministry flubbed the awards function. The President’s Office was further angered when the I & B ministry planted stories justifying its mishandling and virtually hinted that Rashtrapati Bhavan was to blame for not informing the ministry clearly that the President would spend only one hour at the function and not give away all the awards.
In the wake of these stories, Rashtrapati Bhavan took the unusual step of issuing a clarification which put the onus on Irani herself. According to the clarification, Irani did not even meet the President as was being claimed by I&B sources.
The PMO took note of Rashtrapati Bhavan’s annoyance and Irani lost the prestigious I&B portfolio. But clearly, she is not completely out of favour because she remains a cabinet minister and has the textiles portfolio which is important both for Gujarat and the PM’s Lok Sabha constituency of Varanasi.
Hyderabad, not Kochi
It seems it was Deve Gowda’s idea to fly Congress and JD(S) MLAs to Hyderabad to prevent poaching by the BJP while waiting for BJP CM-elect Yeddyurappa’s floor test in Karnataka.
The Congress had spoken to the Left Front government in Kerala and was all set to take the MLAs to Kochi. The plan was aborted when they found out that the BJP had closeted its Karnataka MLAs in Kochi. Obviously, the BJP too feared poaching by the Congress-JD(S) combine.
The Congress then suggested Puducherry where it is in power. But Deve Gowda took matters in hand and telephoned Telengana chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao for help. The two are good friends and trust each other.
Although the Congress was initially reluctant, Deve Gowda insisted. The entire contingent of Congress and JD(S) MLAs was flown to Hyderabad’s top five-star luxury hotel.
Ironically, lawyers arguing on behalf of the BJP in the Supreme Court on Friday inadvertently revealed that the party’s MLAs were in hiding in Kochi. The admission came when the lawyers asked the Court to extend the time of the floor test on the plea that BJP MLAs had to travel from Kochi to Bengaluru.