No invite for JD(S)'s Kumaraswamy, either to NDA meet or Opposition meeting

This comes as a surprise, as since the Congress came to power in Karnataka, there has been talk of the BJP delegating the role of opposition leader to Kumaraswamy

HD Kumaraswamy (photo: National Herald archives)
HD Kumaraswamy (photo: National Herald archives)

Naheed Ataulla

It is a situation of 'all dressed up with nowhere to go' for Janata Dal-Secular leader H.D. Kumaraswamy, as the expected invitation from the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) to attend the meeting in New Delhi on Tuesday, 18 July did not come.

Of course, the like-minded Opposition leaders also side-stepped Kumaraswamy for their two-day meeting in Bengaluru on July 17 and 18, given his strident criticism of the recently elected Congress government in the state and his positive attitude towards the NDA.

The talk in political circles has been that the BJP, which is yet to appoint an opposition leader in the Karnataka legislative assembly, might delegate this responsibility to him. However, Kumaraswamy and Karnataka BJP leaders' public posturing of a possible alliance between their two parties ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections has evoked mixed responses from cadres of both parties.

The former CM on Monday, 17 July, himself said talk of an alliance between the parties was premature.

In the run up to the Lok Sabha polls scheduled for early 2024, the BJP and  JD(S) are likely to need each other to take on the Congress, observers say, since the Assembly elections in May  clearly defined the caste dynamics giving an edge to the current ruling party in the state. The BJP failed to get the full support of the Lingayat community, drawing a  blank from the Scheduled Tribes, while the JD(S) lost its hold on the Vokkaliga votes and others minorities, thus facing an existential challenge.

In the Assembly results, the ruling Congress bagged 135 seats, the BJP 66 and the JD(S), which might have been hoping to play kingmaker in a hung house, had to content itself with 19 seats. The Congress, however, came to power with the strong support of the other backward classes OBCs), including the Muslims, as well as scheduled castes and tribes, getting behind veteran leader Siddaramaiah, now chief minister. The party also garnered the support of the Vokkaliga community with now-deputy chief minister D.K. Shivakumar as one of the leading faces in the run-up to the elections, and made inroads into the Lingayat belt, which had remained aloof from the Congress for the last three decades.

According to  JD(S) insiders, Kumaraswamy is upset that the minorities did not back him, particularly in the Ramanagara constituency, a Muslim-dominated area from which his son Nikhil Kumaraswamy contested. In Mandya district—which it had swept to win all seven seats in the 2018 Assembly elections—the JD(S) got only one seat this time. Sources said this was an indicator of Shivakumar consolidating his position as a Vokkaliga  leader, a place of honour earlier held by the former prime minister H.D. Deve Gowda's family.

"Kumaraswamy now wants to tread the soft Hindutva line as the  equations between his father Deve Gowda and (Prime Minister) Narendra Modi are very good. He feels by going with the BJP, the JD(S) can regain its hold in the Vokkaliga belt of [the] Old Mysuru region," sources close to the JD(S) leader said.   

In an interview to a TV channel, Kumaraswamy had once said that Modi looked upon Gowda as a father figure, and that when Kumaraswamy was chief minister for 14 months from 2018 to 2019, Modi met him 8 times, something his successors—BJP's B.S. Yediyurappa and Basavaraj Bommai—too were not able to achieve. 

In the event of a pre-poll alliance with the BJP, Kumaraswamy is expected to ask the latter to cede at least six or seven Lok Sabha seats to the JD(S). Likely constituencies for the JD(S) to demand are Kolar, Chikkaballapur, Bengaluru Rural, Mandya, Tumakuru and Hassan. These are the Vokkaliga-dominated districts.

In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP secured 25 of the 28 seats in this belt, with the JD(S) winning from Hassan, the Congress from Bengaluru Rural and Mandya constituency won by independent candidate Sumalatha, who has now extended her support to Modi. 

Flip side of aligning with BJP

Muslim leaders in the JD(S), however, are worried that the party is going to totally lose out on the minority votes in the event of a BJP alliance. "We got a small share in the 2023 elections, will be losing even that in future," a Muslim JD(S) leader said. They also feel that in north Karnataka, many JD(S) MLAs have won the support of the backward classes and minorities in their individual capacity, rather than as a representative of the party's manifesto and values.

According to a JD(S) insider from Hassan district, Kumaraswamy's nephew Prajwal Revanna won the Hassan Lok Sabha seat due to the Vokkaliga and minorities' votes, while the two Lingayat-dominated assembly segments of Belurand Saklespur have never supported the JD(S).

A possible NDA alliance is going to hurt Kumaraswamy's brother, MLA H.D. Revanna too, whose equation with Siddaramaiah has been positive since the Janata Parivar days.

What does the BJP gain? 

After losing power in Karnataka, the BJP has been rudderless so far, with no opposition leader and the state unit president also yet to be appointed. Senior leaders are being blamed for indulging in 'adjustment' politics in the polls. A senior party  functionary said, "It is [the] sheer foolishness and arrogance of the Union home minister Amit Shah [to be blamed] for the party's present state of affairs. The gains for the BJP by aligning with the JD(S) will be the Vokkaliga support, which the Congress is aiming to consolidate."

Since 2004, the JD(S) in Karnataka has been aligned with either the Congress or the BJP to suit its political convenience. To this charge, Kumaraswamy's reply to the media has been that he has entered into alliances "for the good of the people".

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