‘Kingmaker’ JD(S) goes all out to hold on to its Old Mysore realm

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Former Karnataka Chief Minister and JD(S) leader H.D. Kumaraswamy addressing a roadshow ahead of filing his nominations for the upcoming Karnataka Assembly elections, in Channapatna on April 17.

Former Karnataka Chief Minister and JD(S) leader H.D. Kumaraswamy addressing a roadshow ahead of filing his nominations for the upcoming Karnataka Assembly elections, in Channapatna on April 17.
| Photo Credit: ANI

Amid boisterous Congress moves and persistent efforts by the BJP to sink roots in the Old Mysore region of southern Karnataka, the Janata Dal(S) — a two-time “kingmaker” over the past two decades — will be fighting the Assembly election to retain its identity and relevance in State politics.

While the party assessed its 2018 performance as below par despite a perceived Vokkaliga consolidation against the then Congress Chief Minister, Siddaramaiah, the JD(S) is going to the polls without any major undercurrents indicating a consolidation of the dominant land-owning community from which it draws strength. Neither has the party been able to widen its footprint beyond this region.

Sub-regional bastion

In 2018, when it formed a 14-month government led by H.D. Kumaraswamy in alliance with the Congress, the JD(S) won 30 of 37 its seats, or about 79% of its total seats, from the Old Mysore region. It won 50% of the seats in the 10 Vokkaliga-dominated districts (outside Bengaluru city). This was despite its total vote share coming down by about 2% from the 2013 election figure, which the party attributed to a Muslim consolidation in favour of the Congress after Rahul Gandhi called the JD(S) the “B team” of the BJP. The JD(S)’s best performance came in 2004, when it won 58 seats in 2004, forging an alliance first with the Congress and then with the BJP to form governments.

The political climate has changed since 2019. D.K. Shivakumar, a Vokkaliga with chief ministerial ambitions, has been appointed Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee president, and is perceived to be a threat against any consolidation of his community in favour of the JD(S).

The BJP is making serious inroads into the Old Mysore region. Though its multiple Vokkaliga outreach efforts have backfired in recent months, political observers believe that the arrival of Prime Minister Narendra Modi with his promise of development has resonated with the Vokkaligas. Several more such visits are in the offing as the election draws closer. As a result, the traditional two-cornered fight between the JD(S) and the Congress in Vokkaliga-dominated districts can turn into triangular fights in some constituencies.

Riding on an anti-Siddaramaiah wave, the JD(S) blanked out its traditional rival, the Congress, in 2018, with resounding victories in Mandya and Hassan districts where it won 13 of the 14 seats.

However, it may not be able to repeat the feat this time. In Hassan, the party’s first family’s home district, the JD(S) supremo’s elder daughter-in-law took her demand for party ticket public. Though the conflict has been resolved, it embarrassed the party, which already carries the tag of being a “family party”.

Lost legislators

The JD(S) is entering the electoral fray without nine of the legislators elected in 2018. While three went over to the BJP in “Operation Kamala” and two died, the party failed to retain those seats in subsequent byelections. In recent weeks, four MLAs have quit the party, with three going to the Congress and the other to the BJP.

Since 2018, the JD(S) has only won one byelection in the State. It also lost the crucial Mandya Lok Sabha seat in a high-voltage battle in 2019 to Independent candidate Sumalatha Ambareesh, who has now declared support to the BJP. In the same period, the party’s presence in the Upper House was weakened, with its numbers plunging from 16 in 2020 to 9 in 2022.

Though the odds are stacked against it, the JD(S) got off to an early start by announcing candidates for 93 seats nearly four months before the election was announced. The party was bolstered by the good response in over 90 constituencies through which its ambitious Pancharatna Yatra passed.

Muslim outreach

The JD(S) has been consciously working to send positive signals to the Muslim community, with C.M. Ibrahim being made the party State president. Besides, Mr. Kumaraswamy has been reaching out to religious leaders, seeking their support.

The yatra showed that Mr. Kumaraswamy’s appeal among the voters has remained intact, though turnout in his previous campaign did not necessarily convert into votes for the party. The JD(S) believes that its pro–farmer identity still resonates with the Vokkaligas, and hopes that the nearly ₹24,000 crore farm loan waiver scheme it implemented in 2018-2019 still stands the party in good stead.

While H.D. Deve Gowda — party supremo and undisputed Vokkaliga leader — is unlikely to take an active part in electioneering, Mr. Kumaraswamy’s accessibility and personal approach remain popular.

The JD(S) is hoping that anti-Siddaramaiah sentiments among Vokkaligas, and the Congress’ infighting could bring them votes in the region, while BJP is still to make any impact in the rural hinterland.

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