The Congress may have played down last Saturday’s exit poll prediction of a hung Assembly publicly, but kept a plan B ready to stop the BJP from forming the government.
Sources say the final decision to offer ‘unconditional support’ to the Deve Gowda-led Janata Dal (Secular) to head a coalition government was taken at a meeting between Congress president Rahul Gandhi and his mother Sonia Gandhi on Tuesday afternoon after she drove down to his residence.
By then, it was clear that the Congress was not in a position to return to power on its own but had won enough seats to stop the BJP by teaming up with the JD(S).
Other senior leaders such as Ahmed Patel and the party’s communication chief Randeep Singh Surjewala pitched in to articulate the party’s position in public.
Azad opened talks
After deciding to back the JD(S), Mr. Gandhi spoke to his senior colleague Ghulam Nabi Azad to approach former Prime Minister Deve Gowda and convey the decision.
But the party had started reaching out to Mr. Deve Gowda’s party last Sunday itself when Mr. Azad got in touch with JD(S) national secretary Danish Ali to discuss a tie-up.
Congress insiders claim that though the party’s internal survey had given it over 120 seats, it was ready to go all out to stop the BJP. Unlike the BJP, whose senior leaders were in Delhi on Tuesday morning, the Congress had stationed Mr. Azad and former Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot in Bengaluru for negotiations.
“We knew that Deve Gowdaji was averse to going with the BJP and that’s why we had kept the channels open,’’ senior Congress leader B.K. Hariprasad told The Hindu.
Other leaders also pointed out that the party had reached out on Monday to H.D. Kumaraswamy who was then on a vacation in Singapore. And the strategy was clear: the Governor only had to follow precedents set during the Goa and Manipur Assembly elections last year and in Meghalaya this March.
In all these States, the Congress argued, the Governors had chosen “stable post-poll alliance’’ over the Congress party that had emerged as the single largest party in the polls. Mr. Surjewala, addressing a press conference, announced that inviting post-poll alliances is now a “settled principle’’ as the Supreme Court had upheld the Goa decision.
The Congress’ chief spokesperson even quoted a March 13, 2017 Facebook post of senior BJP Minister Arun Jaitley where the BJP leader had argued that “in case of a hung verdict, the Governor would be Constitutionally right in inviting leader of the majority coalition” and claimed the Congress-JD(S) had not just majority of the seats but got over 56% of the votes polled. Asked about the Congress’s move if the Governor rejected the Congress-JD(S) claim, Mr. Surjewala said, “We expect the Honourable Governor to listen to the mandate of the Constitution and the letter of the Law. However, all options will remain open.”