Deve Gowda and Lingayat factors: ‘Known Unknowns’ in Karnataka polls

Maha Jagadguru Dr Mate Mahadevi (centre) at a press conference by Forum of Lingayat Mathadhipathies which endorsed Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah (left) and the Congress ahead of the upcoming elections; JD(S) leader HD Deve Gowda with son Kumaraswamy

Karnataka assembly elections: While odds are in favour of HD Deve Gowda’s Janata Dal (Secular) supporting BJP in case of a hung assembly, no party is sure which way the Lingayat vote will go

As disappointed ticket-seekers shed tears and pugnacious politicians raise their voices as the Karnataka assembly elections approach, some obvious questions that dodge definitive answers are who the eventual winner will be and whether the state will see single party rule or a coalition.

A quote by former United States Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, in a totally different context, aptly sums up the situation. He said, "There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don't know we don't know."

While one obviously cannot consider the unknowns, there are at least two knowns, yet unknown, that may play a significant role in the eventual outcome. One, the Janata Dal (Secular) and two, the Lingayat issue.

If either the Congress or the Bharatiya Janata Party wins on their own strength, the JD(S) will become a bit player. But in the event of a hung assembly, where the JD(S) can be the decider between being in government or the Opposition, the situation can turn tricky for the Congress and the BJP.

As it stands, the JD(S) has not clearly spelt out its position and is not likely to do so. The cards are however stacked in favour of it supporting BJP, in the event of a hung assembly. This prima facie reason is because the JD(S) patriarch, former Prime Minister HD Deve Gowda has a sour relationship with Chief Minister Siddaramaiah.

Deve Gowda and Siddaramaiah go back a long way, with the former prime minister mentoring the chief minister in the early days of his career. With Gowda promoting his own son HD Kumaraswamy over Siddaramaiah, the relationship did not last. Siddaramaiah quit the JD(S) and joined the Congress in 2006. Not only did he cock a snook at Deve Gowda, he went on to become the chief minister.

Apparently, a few weeks ago the JD(S) leadership met senior Congress politicians and said the party would support it, but on the condition that Siddaramaiah is replaced by someone else. Since then, the Congress has all but taken on the JD(S), with party president Rahul Gandhi calling it JD (Sangh Parivar) and the ‘B’ team of the BJP.

One cannot also rule out some arm-twisting from the BJP if it needs the support of the JD(S), given the track record of how it came to power in states like Goa and Manipur.

Deve Gowda and Siddaramaiah go back a long way, with the former prime minister mentoring the chief minister in the early days of his career. With Deve Gowda promoting his own son HD Kumaraswamy over Siddaramaiah, the relationship did not last. Siddaramaiah quit the JD(S) and joined the Congress in 2006. Not only did he cock a snook at Deve Gowda, he went on to become the chief minister

The Lingayat Factor

The other “known unknown” is the Lingayat factor. No party is sure which way the Lingayat vote will go, whether it will split or whether it will make no difference. Traditionally, the Lingayat vote was with the Congress. It then shifted to the ertswhile Janata Dal’s late leader Ramakrishna Hegde, who transferred it to the BJP during their alliance in 1999.

In the 2004 and 2008 elections, the Lingayat vote was perceived to have gone en masse to the BJP, enabling its good showing. By recommending minority religion status to the Lingayats, a long-standing demand of the community, Siddaramaiah has calculated that it would benefit the Congress on the assumption that a large section of the community will favour his party.

Since the state government’s recommendation was sent to the Centre, strangely not much is being spoken about the issue by both the Congress and the BJP.

While the Congress is wary of a blowback against its decision among sections of the community, the BJP is caught in a fix on how to respond to the decision. It can neither support nor oppose it, as either will result in flight of votes to the Congress. It has taken refuge under the excuse that it cannot take a decision as the model code of conduct is in place for the elections.

Amidst this, the next phase is being enacted with the announcement of candidates of both the Congress and the BJP. But that is another story...

The author is a senior journalist and visiting professor at Indian Institute of Journalism & New Media, Bengaluru

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