Karnataka: BJP boycotts H D Kumaraswamy's swearing-in, Opposition unites

Newly sworn-in Karnataka Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy with Karnataka former chief minister and Congress leader Siddaramaiah during the swearing-in ceremony of JD(S)-Congress coalition government. Photo: PTI
When it rains during any auspicious occasion, they say, it brings good fortune. Here, rain started lashing the city at least a couple of hours before the swearing-in ceremony of the new coalition government on Wednesday afternoon, bringing traffic to a grinding halt at many places. Especially around the state secretariat, Vidhana Soudha, venue of the event.

However, the weather was hardly a deterrent to supporters of both ruling parties — Congress and Janata Dal (Secular). They marched towards Vidhana Soudha in thousands, quite determined to celebrate as their leaders took the oath.

What was noteworthy was the show of strength by leaders of most opposition parties at the national level, displaying camaraderie and celebrating the formation of a non-Bharatiya Janata Party government in Karnataka. The chief ministers of most non-BJP ruled states (Mamata Banerjee, Chandrababu Naidu, Amarinder Singh) and seniors from different political parties (Mayawati, Akhilesh Yadav, Tejaswi Yadav, Sitaram Yechury, Ajit Singh, Sharad Yadav) reached the city hours before the ceremony.

Their newfound bonhomie was on full display, with all of them seemingly engaged in animated conversation, between themselves and with Sonia Gandhi, head of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance. It is being perceived as a real show of strength and indicating a possible 'third front' to take on the BJP before the crucial 2019 general election. Congress and JD (S) heads would not say if a formal meeting was scheduled later in the evening to discuss this but the intent was clearly there.

That apart, Wednesday saw most of the central business district wearing a festive look, with flags and billboards welcoming the leaders of both Congress and JD (S). Preparations for the ceremony had started much in advance but, by the afternoon, the sunny sky had changed to first dark clouds and then a severe downpour in most of the city. The rain stopped an hour before the ceremony but put the even-normally busy traffic out of gear, even stranding the vehicles carrying Sonia and Rahul Gandhi to Vidhana Soudha. The 3,000-odd police personnel did not suffice to manage the crowd and traffic.

That aside, as opposition party heads started arriving, the cheering built up. The biggest roar from the crowd did not come when H D Kumaraswamy appeared from within the Soudha but for his father, ex-chief minister (and ex-prime minster) H D Deve Gowda. Once Kumaraswamy was sworn in as CM of the state, a big part of the crowd broke into Dappan Koothu, a street dance style; at the other end of the street, people started bursting crackers. Amid the tumult of crowds climbing over the barricades to get a closer look was a mini economy of its own of food hawkers and the like for the hungry athered since the morning.

After failing to form the government, the BJP, the single largest party in the new legislative assembly, decided to abstain from attending the oath ceremony. This was despite seven of its leaders being invited, including former chief ministers Sadananda Gowda, Jagadish Shettar and S M Krishna, Union minister Ananth Kumar and officiating assembly speaker K G Bopaiah. Instead, the party decided to observe black-flag protests in the state.

News of dissension also came from the Congress camp -- there were reports that senior leader D K Shivakumar, who played a crucial role in uniting the Congress and JD (S) camps in the hours of crisis, and his brother, D K Suresh, were restive at not being considered for the post of Deputy CM. However, Shivakumar himself denied this and was present with other Congress seniors on the dais. Sources say the All India Congress Committee secretary in charge of the state, K C Venugopal, had pacified both the brothers, reportedly promising to make Shivakumar president of the Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee.

While the coalition seems to have won the first leg of the battle, it does not wish to take a chance ahead of the crucial floor test this Friday. So, both sides will continue to keep their MLAs in safe houses till then. It is only after the trust vote when the government is expected to announce the names forming the new ministry.

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