The tears of Kumaraswamy

The tears of Kumaraswamy

Shedding tears may seem like a sign of weakness but it is more likely a trailer of what Kumaraswamy could do if things go wrong.

By T S Sudhir

Published on :

On the day before the first day of polling in Karnataka, HD Kumaraswamy was campaigning in Rajarajeshwarinagar constituency in Bengaluru. He was rather emotional that evening, reminding voters about his health issues. 

“Despite all constraints, I have been working tirelessly to secure 113 seats and bring the Janata Dal (Secular) to power. If you want your Kumaranna to be alive, please make us win,” said Kumaraswamy, popularly known as Kumaranna. Karnataka did not give the JD(S) a majority, but did create a situation by which Kumaraswamy could be Chief Minister.

But the outburst during the election campaign was clearly not a one-off incident. On Saturday, Kumaraswamy gave expression to his state of mind when he made it clear that he was far from happy at being Chief Minister. 

“I am swallowing my own pain like poison, like Vishakantha [a reference to Lord Shiva who drank poison to save the world]. I sought from people that I should be in a position to solve the problems of the people, to complete the unfinished agenda of my father. The people of the state have not taken me into confidence to deliver on my dreams,” said Kumaraswamy. 

The last time a politician had made a reference to poison in the world of politics was Kumaraswamy’s coalition partner, Rahul Gandhi. In January 2013 in Jaipur, soon after taking over as Congress Vice President, Gandhi had referred to his mother Sonia Gandhi telling him that the power that so many people seek, is actually poisonous. 

So, is Kumaraswamy cracking under the pressure of running a coalition government? Or is he, given to such emotional outbursts because he is not in the best of health? Or is he simply not able to handle the non-stop barbs that are directed at him by the Bharatiya Janata Party?

One gathers it is a combination of all three factors. Not that Kumaraswamy realistically expected to reach the 113 mark, but would have bargained for a better tally so that he did not have an overbearing Congress by his side, reminding him that their numbers are double his. The JD(S) count of 37 to Congress’ 80, has meant Kumaraswamy has had to refer to match referee Rahul Gandhi in Delhi on more than one occasion to bail him out of aggressive appealing from Siddaramaiah and Co. 

What is essentially happening is that even as the Congress and JD(S) run the government, they want to ensure the arrangement does not dilute their traditional voter base. Kumaraswamy’s predecessor, Siddaramaiah was upset when the quantity of rice distributed under his pet welfare programme, Anna Bhagya, was reduced from 7 kg to 5 kg in order to raise funds. The former CM’s pressure meant Kumaraswamy had to roll it back. 

Kumaraswamy is clear that his core constituency is the farmer. Which is why he went out of his way to announce a Rs 34,000-crore loan waiver, upsetting the urban constituency where the Congress had done well by increasing prices of fuel, liquor and electricity. 

Then there is the perception that the Budget that Kumaraswamy presented was targeted more at south Karnataka, with little in it for the other regions to cheer about. The Congress worry is that the JD(S) is running this government as if it is a solo venture without bothering about how it will affect his partner. The Congress is in a Catch-22 situation. While it cannot pull the plug on Kumaraswamy because Rahul Gandhi would not approve of such a move as he needs to show to India that the Congress is willing to be part of the non-BJP power arrangement, it does not stop the Karnataka Congress from flexing its muscles to let the CM know it matters. 

This condescending attitude came through even in the reactions to Kumaraswamy’s remarks. Congress Member of Legislative Assembly D Sudhakar said the party had given nectar and not poison to Kumaraswamy by making him CM, despite the JD(S) winning only 37 seats. 

Another school of thought is that the trigger for the CM’s outpouring was the “Kumaraswamy is not my CM” narrative taking shape on social media. This was after a video of a boy from Kodagu criticising him for not caring for the district, went viral. 

The BJP that has been calling the government an opportunistic arrangement and sparing no efforts to write its epitaph on a daily basis, called Kumaraswamy’s tearjerker an example of “amazing acting”. It was a not so subtle dig at Kumaraswamy’s past as a Kannada movie producer. The CM still keeps his ties with Sandalwood alive, with his son Nikhil Gowda trying his luck in films. 

And don’t forget Kumaraswamy also comes from the HD Deve Gowda stable. One only has to rewind to Gowda’s farewell address as Prime Minister in 1997 in Parliament when he vowed to rise like a phoenix from the ashes. Both father and son are adept at dramatic and emotional flourishes, playing the political game with an overdose of sentiment. 

On the face of it, shedding tears may seem like a sign of weakness but it is more likely a trailer of what Kumaraswamy could do if things go wrong. Play the victim card, crying betrayal. Gowda junior has demonstrated that tears are his potent weapon.