NEW DELHI: Former Prime Minister HD Deve Gowda's Janata Dal Secular, forecast by a poll of exit polls to play a key role in forming Karnataka's next government, squashed speculation that the party could support the BJP. But if the Congress did not get a majority, JDS spokesman Danish Ali told NDTV, it was the Congress' "responsibility" to reach out.
An aggregate of nine exit polls shows Karnataka might have delivered a split verdict; the BJP emerging as the largest party with 97 seats but still far from the halfway mark of 112 for the 222 seats on which elections were held. The Congress came next on this list with 90 seats. The JDS is a distant third, just as PM Narendra Modi had predicted. But its 31 seats predicted by the polls are more than enough to place it in the kingmaker's spot.
Through the election campaign, the Congress and its chief Rahul Gandhi had pointed to evidence on the ground that suggested the Janata Dal Secular could be playing the BJP's B-team. Deve Gowda had denied the allegation, insisting that his party had been let down by both, the Congress and BJP, and would support neither.
Instead, the former PM claimed that his party had "done well" and "expect a possibility of forming the government". Once voting was over and the exit polls started pouring in, the JDS stopped talking about forming its own government.
Its leader HD Kumaraswamy, though, did seek to take a jab at the exit polls, wondering in an unusual statement, which seats had been given to the JDS that he said, had been described as "a small regional party".
"There is no question of going with BJP. If the Congress is voted out, if Congress loses majority, if Congress goes below 100, then it is the responsibility of the Congress, and Congress also how they are going to fight 2019," Danish Ali, the JDS general secretary and chief spokesman, told NDTV.
"It is not the question... not the responsibility of JDS only to every time to show the certificate of secularism," Mr Ali said, complaining that his party had helped the Congress against the BJP but its gestures weren't reciprocated.
For now, the Congress isn't talking about the possibility that it might need support from the Deve Gowda's party to form the government. Chief Minister Siddaramaiah told NDTV that his party would get a comfortable majority on its own
M Veerappa Moily, the Congress leader who has been the state's chief minister back in the early 1990s, made a similar point. "That question does not arise now. It is only the exit poll and not the exact poll," the former union minister told NDTV.
Any talk of a tie-up between the Congress and the JDS is expected to come with its own set of complications.
Mr Siddaramaiah left Deve Gowda's JDS for the Congress in 2005. HD Kumaraswamy , who is Mr Gowda's son, was then the Chief Minister of a coalition government with the BJP, a move which so upset his father that he fell sick.
Danish Ali rejected suggestions that Mr Kumaraswamy had partnered with the BJP for power. "It was to save the party (from the Congress that had poached its lawmakers)," he said, before going on to launch a bitter attack on the Congress for targeting regional parties.
"The Congress uses its energy only to destroy secular regional forces. That is why 21 states have gone to the BJP," the JDS leader said, crediting regional parties starting from Mamata Banerjee's Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Odisha for acting as the bulwark against an aggressive BJP.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had yesterday prophesised a hung assembly in Karnataka and lamented that the Congress hadn't worked with the JDS. "The Congress should have worked more tactfully with HD Deve Gowda, it would have helped them," she had said in an interview to a Bengali news channel.