Karnataka: If verdict hung, all signs are that JD(S) will go with BJP

In case of a hung Assembly, HD Deve Gowda and HD Kumaraswamy’s party looks likely to ally with the BJP     

Photo by Yasbant Negi/The India Today Group/Getty Images
Photo by Yasbant Negi/The India Today Group/Getty Images
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KS Dakshina Murthy

With elections to the Karnataka Assembly round the corner and the spectre of a hung house a distinct possibility, the real beneficiary in that case will undoubtedly be the Janata Dal (Secular).

The JD(S) leadership of the father-son duo, former Prime Minister HD Deve Gowda and former Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy, is putting on a confident face in asserting they will emerge winner on their own. But the situation on the ground does not tally with this assertion.

The other key question is which way the party will go in the event of a hung Assembly. Assuming the Congress and the BJP are neck to neck, all indications are that the JD(S) will go with the BJP. The reasons are widely known. First, there has been personal bad blood between Gowda and Kumaraswamy on one hand and Chief Minister Siddaramaiah on the other.

The animosity goes back to the days when Siddaramaiah was with the JD(S) and more importantly was Gowda’s right hand man. In 2006, Siddaramaiah called it quits when Gowda sidelined him and promoted his son Kumaraswamy. Siddaramaiah, who joined the Congress, went on to become Chief Minister in 2013. The successful defiance has never gone down well with the Gowda family. Obviously, they wouldn’t want to see the renegade continue as Chief Minister for one more term.

The other reason for the JD(S)’s possible support for the BJP is that the saffron party’s central leadership has already sent feelers to the Gowda family that they count on its support in the event of a hung Assembly. According to one assessment, in the old Mysuru region where the BJP is not yet a force to reckon with, the party appears to have deliberately fielded weaker candidates in several constituencies to ensure that the anti-incumbency vote is not split between the JD(S) and the BJP. Their argument is that a victory for the JD(S) is a victory for the BJP.

But, if either the Congress or the BJP comes to power on its own, the JD(S) faces the danger of political oblivion.

In the old Mysuru region where the BJP is not yet a force to reckon with, the party appears to have deliberately fielded weaker candidates in several constituencies to ensure that the anti-incumbency vote is not split between the JD(S) and the BJP. Their argument is that a victory for the JD(S) is a victory for the BJP

JD(S) fighting just to survive

How did the JD(S) fall from the position of a main alternative to an also-ran? It has no one but itself to blame for this situation, a denouement peppered with ego clashes, short-term vision and the absence of an enduring strategy.

The undivided Janata Dal (in its earlier avatar of Janata Party) that made its mark in Karnataka in 1983, led a coalition.

Ramakrishna Hegde was a consensus Chief Minister to preempt competing claims for the post between Deve Gowda, a Vokkaliga, and SR Bommai, a Lingayat. A Brahmin, Hegde had built up good support in north Karnataka for his political role in that region.

Gowda never had an affable relationship with Hegde. The feud between the two eventually played a key role in weakening the party. And, in 1989, the party lost power to the Congress. A much-chastened Gowda and Hegde realised they had to unite if they needed to win. In the next election of 1994, they did that and the voters rewarded them with a comfortable majority. This time the Janata Party had metamorphosed into the Janata Dal and Gowda achieved his ambition of becoming the Chief Minister.

In 1996, in an unexpected turn of events following the Lok Sabha polls, Gowda found himself chosen Prime Minister by the United Front. This was a bonanza for Gowda. Hegde, on the other hand, could hardly believe that his rival had occupied the nation’s most-coveted gaddi.

In the 80s, when Hegde had been the Chief Minister, the media had projected him as the future Prime Minister. Probably unable to stomach the fact that Gowda had indeed become the Prime Minister, Hegde impulsively made some sarcastic comments in reaction to his colleague’s elevation.

Gowda, from his high seat in New Delhi, expelled Hegde from the party. This one action sealed the Janata Dal’s fate, knocking it off from its position as an alternative to the Congress and allowed the BJP to expand its base in Karnataka.

The voters gave a resounding victory to the BJP in 2008 in response to the cry of betrayal by Yeddyurappa against Kumaraswamy. The JD(S) has not recovered since. In 2013, it performed even worse. And, another election is round the corner with no visible signs that the party will do any better

The Janata Dal split into the JD(S) and the JD(U). Hegde aligned with the BJP in the 1999 state elections. The beneficiary was the BJP, which got the support that Hegde had cultivated in north Karnataka. The JD(U) was reduced to almost nothing. The Gowda faction, which was the JD(S), managed to do better in south Karnataka. But the Congress, under SM Krishna, emerged as the winner.

Five years later, the state witnessed a hung Assembly. The JD(S), in a kingmaker’s role, backed the Congress under Dharam Singh. In two years, the equations within the JD(S) changed. Gowda promoted his son HD Kumaraswamy over Siddaramaiah. And, in 2006, Kumaraswamy struck a deal with BJP leader BS Yeddyurappa and shifted the JD(S) support to the saffron party.

Siddaramaiah quit the JD(S) and joined the Congress. As for Kumaraswamy, after 20 months in office, he did not keep his promise of making way for Yeddyurappa as Chief Minister as per their deal. The voters gave a resounding victory to the BJP in 2008 in response to the cry of betrayal by Yeddyurappa against Kumaraswamy. The JD(S) has not recovered since. In 2013, it performed even worse. And, another election is round the corner with no visible signs that the party will do any better.

The writer is an independent journalist based in Bengaluru

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