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HD Kumaraswamy sworn in as cabinet minister as JD(S) eyes political resurgence in Karnataka

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BengaluruH.D. Kumaraswamy, the two-time chief minister of Karnataka and state Janata Dal (Secular), or JD(S), president, joined the Union cabinet led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi Sunday.

Having made a comeback, the JD(S) is now trying to regain lost ground and influence to retain its strongholds in Karnataka against the onslaught of the Congress and BJP, analysts and political leaders say.

“My intention is that this opportunity given to me is not just to do some good service honestly for the state but to convert the vision of Prime Minister Modi into action. We have to bring him a good name, as well as to our state,” Kumaraswamy told reporters in Delhi Sunday.

This is the first time the JD(S) in its current avatar is making its entry into a Union cabinet. In its earlier form — Janata Party — C.M. Ibrahim, S.R. Bommai and R.L. Jalappa were part of the Union cabinet when H.D. Deve Gowda was PM and then under I.K. Gujral between 1996-98.

The JD(S) was not formally affiliated with the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led NDA in 1999, nor did it join the Manmohan Singh-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA 1 & 2) during the 2004-2014 period. In 2018, following a fractured verdict in Karnataka, the JD(S) allied with the Congress, the state serving as a platform for anti-BJP parties. This, however, crumbled within a year as Modi’s BJP swept the elections.

The JD(S) has largely focused on its presence in the state and its decision to become part of the NDA is part of its strategy to reclaim ground it lost in its strongholds to the Congress in the 2023 assembly elections, analysts say.

Deve Gowda, the 92-year-old patriarch of the JD(S), Sunday said that the Lok Sabha elections in which the Congress party managed just 99 out of the 543 seats, will be taught a lesson by the people for their “arrogance and negativity”.

“The Congress party assumes they have done better this time, but the fact is that in states they themselves run, like Karnataka, Telangana and Himachal Pradesh, they have floundered,” Gowda said in a letter Sunday, informing Modi of his absence during the swearing-in ceremony.

The Congress won 9 out of the 28 Lok Sabha seats in Karnataka while the BJP secured 17 on its own and the JD(S) won in 2 of the three seats it contested.

 


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Vokkaliga belt 

The dominant Vokkaliga community, holding decisive sway in the southern districts of Karnataka, is believed to support the Deve Gowda-led JD(S). An agrarian-land owning class, the Vokkaligas are considered the state’s second-largest caste group, following the Lingayats, who traditionally support the B.S. Yediyurappa-led BJP in the state.

This is one of the main reasons why Kumaraswamy is striving to secure the agriculture portfolio. He aims to rebuild support among the farming community, which the JD(S) views as one of its priorities.

The Vokkaligas have fluctuated between the JD(S) and Congress, primarily based on whether they want to support Gowda or not.

Fearing conceding more ground to the two national parties, the JD(S) opted to align with the BJP to arrest the decline of its support base and prevent the exodus of its leaders.

“Given the national label that the JD(S) will now have, the BJP may not push the idea of gulping down regional parties,” Muzaffar Assadi, a Mysuru-based political analyst and former faculty member at the University of Mysore, told ThePrint.

JD(S) made a strong comeback after its dismal outing in the 2023 assembly elections in which it won just 19 of the state’s 224 seats.

“The state’s people have rejected the narrative of the Congress that the JD(S) is finished in Karnataka. The party will become stronger and strive harder for the betterment of the state. In the next (assembly) election, the BJP-JD(S) alliance will rule the state,” JD(S) leader T.A. Sharavana told a Kannada TV news channel.

The party contested three seats on its own and lent Dr. C.N. Manjunath, Gowda’s son-in-law, to the BJP in Bengaluru Rural seat where the latter defeated Congress heavyweight D.K. Suresh by nearly 2.7 lakh votes.

Analysts add that the JD(S) helped the BJP win at least 4-5 seats in southern Karnataka, including all four seats in Bengaluru, Mysuru-Kodagu, Tumakuru, and Chikmagaluru among others.

The Congress managed to win just two seats in Old Mysuru region — Chamarajanagara (reserved seat) and Hassan, where rape-accused Prajwal Revanna contested.

In the process, the JD(S) also dealt a blow to state Congress president, D.K. Shivakumar who was trying to portray himself as the leader of Vokkaligas and be seen as an alternative to Gowda.

‘All in the family’

Kumaraswamy (64) is the younger son of Gowda but has taken complete control of the party from his brother, H.D. Revanna (66).

Kumaraswamy, people who know the leader, has oscillated between the two national parties for survival while his father has, at least until now, tried to push for a more ideological stand.

“Gowda will hug anyone who is against or talks against Siddaramaiah. Kumaraswamy is more practical and is why he seems more opportunistic,” a former JD(S) leader told ThePrint, requesting anonymity.

The JD(S) has nine politically active members from Gowda’s immediate family

With Revanna’s entangled in accusations of mass-rape, abduction, molestation and criminal intimidation among other charges, Kumaraswamy continues to tighten his control over the JD(S).

With him moving to Delhi, there are fears that the party will become leaderless.

“There may be some changes likely. Nikhil (Kumaraswamy’s son) is currently the head of the party’s youth wing and the family is unlikely to give any significant position or power to another leader,” one senior JD(S) leader told ThePrint, requesting anonymity.

The JD(S) is lobbying hard to get Manjunath a cabinet berth since the latter contested on a BJP ticket.

Kumaraswamy keeping his Lok Sabha seat would mean vacating his Channapatna assembly seat. While Nikhil seems like the JD(S)’s obvious pick, it’s uncertain if the BJP will relinquish a previously won seat. Additionally, there’s speculation that Suresh, Shivakumar’s brother, will attempt to win this seat in the upcoming assembly bypolls.

(Edited by Zinnia Ray Chaudhuri)


Also read: Siddaramaiah slams BJP for ‘lying’ about Karnataka finances. ‘No question of stopping any guarantees’


 



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