Regardless of the manner in which the Congress- JD(S) tussle in Karnataka pans out, Rahul Gandhi’s leadership has taken a hit. It was the Congress president who projected himself as the architect of what appeared an unlikely partnership when the state’s electorate returned an indecisive verdict eight months ago, but he has proved his inability to provide the cement to keep his anti-BJP formulation as firm as the hopes he had raised. Only archivists still recall the scenes created when an array of Opposition leaders presented itself on the steps of the elegant Vidhana Soudha, for it failed to trigger a wider front ~ the rejection of his leadership of an alliance by the BSP Samajwadi in UP being a veritable slap in the face. One which stung enough to pressure Rahul into running to his sister for help ~ apart from Priyanka’s as yet untested charisma, her good relations with Akhilesh were a key factor in the rescue act Rahul has tried to mount. Once again it has been established that except in 1977 ~ and that too only temporarily ~ an “anti-someone” front lacks the capacity to survive.

It is that capacity that is on test in Bengaluru. Although a BJP-bid to topple an unbalanced partnership appears to have come a cropper, for now at least, the threat of HD Kumaraswamy to step aside confirms that the greater danger to the Congress- JD(S) exercise comes from within. Kumaraswamy may have been tempted by the “loaves and fishes” of office to enter into a lop-sided relationship, but since even worms turn he has inevitably reacted to the constant sniping by his so-called partners in the Congress. There is a high degree of the hypocritical to the prevailing situation ~ top Congress leaders seek to distance themselves from the carping, but take few steps to bring the “dissenters” to book ~ are they secretly engineering the trouble in the hope that the JD(S) will come around to accepting a role-reversal? Rahul is fully aware of the shenanigans ~ the chief minister has frequently sought his aid ~ but has done little to remedy the situation. Much like the Modi-Shah combine opts to be silent spectators while their several stormtroopers (Anant Kumar Hegde, for example) run riot. The tottering of the Karnataka government sends out a strong signal to other potential allies that linking up with the Congress is fraught with risks, self-respect is put on the chopping block. Not that the JD(S) is free of blemish, but Rahul has got to realise his job does not end with posing for photo-ops, he has to learn to “run” coalitions. Yet to be fair to him, he is only adhering to the arrogant traditions of the Congress. As would be confirmed by the fate of Chandra Shekhar, I K Gujral and Deve Gowda. Except that in those times the BJP was not the prime political adversary.