‘Inviting wolves to dinner’ — why JD(S) revival may come at cost of losing Vokkaliga base to BJP


Bengaluru: Written off by the Congress as a spent force after its dismal performance in last year’s assembly elections, the Janata Dal (Secular) has come back stronger, regaining lost ground and even igniting a revival of sorts with the help it received and extended to its bigger national partner, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The JD(S) won two of the three seats it contested from Karnataka in the Lok Sabha elections on its own and one candidate it ‘planted’ in the BJP. This revival was led by H.D. Kumaraswamy, former prime minister H.D. Deve Gowda’s younger son.

Such was the influence of the JD(S) that it denied the Congress any seat in southern Karnataka, barring Hassan where rape-accused former MP and Gowda’s grandson Prajwal Revanna was contesting, and Chamarajanagar.

Kumaraswamy himself won in Mandya with a margin of more than 2.84 lakh votes against Venkataramane Gowda of the Congress. “I expected the result and margins in the early stage itself in Mandya,” Kumaraswamy told ThePrint, adding that he wanted to fulfil the aspirations of those who wanted to see him elected to Parliament.

The 64-year-old made no secret of his party’s expectations in wanting to bag the agriculture portfolio from the new National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government to be led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

“The one field our party is primarily interested in is to do good for the farming community and that’s been our struggle from the beginning. Let’s see what decisions are taken,” the two-time former chief minister told reporters in Delhi before attending the meeting of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) Wednesday.

Having played a crucial role in the formation of national governments on more than one occasion, the JD(S) will try to use its new-found influence to win back lost ground in Karnataka, said analyst Muzaffar Assadi.

Also Read: Yediyurappa’s son Raghavendra wins by 2.43 lakh votes from Shimoga, rebel Eshwarappa comes a cropper

‘Vokkaligas voted for JD(S) despite SIT probe’ 

In the just concluded Lok Sabha elections, the BJP bagged 17 of the 28 seats in Karnataka while the Congress secured nine and the JD(S) two.

According to analysts, the JD(S) helped BJP’s tally, using its might to give its national partner at least five more seats in the Old Mysuru region where its core support base, the Vokkaliga community, is a dominant force. The BJP won in Mysore, Tumkur, Chikkballapur and Udupi Chikmagalur, all four seats in Bengaluru, while JD(S) bagged Mandya and Kolar.

Dr C.N. Manjunath, noted cardiologist and Deve Gowda’s son-in-law who contested on a BJP ticket, won by a record margin against D.K. Suresh in Bengaluru Rural. Suresh is the brother of Deputy CM D.K. Shivakumar.

“If you look at the Vokkaliga belt, like in Kolar, even the Dalit (Left) joined hands with the BJP. All Vokkaliga candidates of the BJP won. On one hand, they joined hands with the BJP and at the same time supported JD(S),” Assadi, a Mysuru-based political analyst and former faculty at the University of Mysore, told ThePrint. 

He added that despite the accusations against Prajwal Revanna, the community consolidated behind Deve Gowda and Kumaraswamy.

But the question of its future leads to more uncertainty now that Kumaraswamy, the party’s public face and state president, is likely to assume the role of a central minister in the Modi cabinet. “What happens if Kumaraswamy goes to Delhi? Who will take care of JD(S) in Karnataka? Manjunath cannot since he is now with the BJP and the Kolar MP cannot be made minister,” Assadi adds.

The JD(S) is a family-run party and the Gowdas have been nonchalant about it. With Manjunath’s entry, nine members of Deve Gowda’s immediate family are in active politics.  This, Assadi said, shows a feudal mindset of a family that will retain power within.

With Gowda’s other son, H.D. Revanna, and his family, facing serious charges being looked into by a special investigation team (SIT), Kumaraswamy will have to find an acceptable and sustainable solution to continue the party’s revival, if any. 

The option is Nikhil, Kumaraswamy’s actor-politician son, who has had two unsuccessful political outings in 2019 and 2023. 

With Kumaraswamy likely to move to a central role, his assembly seat of Channapatna will fall vacant.

“Well that is purely not in my mind as of now but I am working as youth president (of the party), a karyakarta to build our party. Whatever responsibility the party has given me… my primary focus is that,” Nikhil told ThePrint. 

‘Inviting wolves to dinner’

The BJP has formed the government twice in Karnataka but has been short of a majority on both occasions as it has fallen short of making inroads into the Old Mysuru region. 

In 2008, the BJP got 110 seats and in 2018, the party got 104 – both short of the magic number of 113 – and this is precisely why they need the JD(S). 

For the Gowda-led party, it needs the BJP to take on the Congress, its primary enemy in its strongholds. 

Narendar Pani, Bengaluru-based political analyst and faculty at the National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS), said that the JD(S) can have a bigger say in how the BJP operates. “Deve Gowda implanting Manjunath into the BJP is interesting. If any pressure comes within the BJP, which way Manjunath goes will become important,” Pani says.

The BJP on its own did not secure a majority in the Lok Sabha elections and every alliance partner is crucial to keep the NDA secure, he added. 

In Karnataka, the JD(S) withdrew support from B.S. Yediyurappa in 2007, just seven days after the Lingayat strongman took oath as chief minister for the very first time.

The JD(S) has also gained notoriety as a party that is willing to ally with anyone to retain power — a quality that has earned it the title of being ‘opportunistic’.

In 2018, the party won just 37 seats while the Congress won 78. Despite this, Kumaraswamy became chief minister.

But it’s not all gain for the JD(S), analysts pointed out.

In 2019, JD(S) extended its post-poll alliance with the Congress to the Lok Sabha elections and was able to ask for eight seats out of the 28. In 2024, the BJP offered it just three out of the 28 – an indication of how much the JD(S) was willing to concede in just five years. 

Gowda turned 92 in May and has seen his younger son, Kumaraswamy, take control of party affairs. However, Gowda had already been reduced to the role of a spectator to the intensifying battle for dominance between the families of his two politically active sons by this time.

With Revanna entangled with the allegations levelled against him, his son and his wife, and trying to retain control over Hassan and Kumaraswamy unable to stitch local coalitions across the aisle, the party has fallen back on the BJP.

Assadi said this comes with its dangers. “It’s like inviting the wolves to dinner. Once you ask your support base to vote for the BJP, there are dangers that you may not get them back.”

(Edited by Amrtansh Arora)

Also Read: Eedina challenges Axis My India exit poll methodology for Karnataka, predicts 13-18 seats for Congress


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