Far from acquiring the kingmaker status they aspired to, H.D. Deve Gowda and his son Kumaraswamy will have to fight a tough battle to sustain Janata Dal (Secular), reduced to less than half of its 2004 tally of 58. The party won 28 seats this time.
The almost irreversible decline of the JD-S in Karnataka follows the pattern of demise of Janata parivar fragments in several parts of the country. Except in UP and Bihar, offspring of the Janata-Socialist heritage have conceded the entire non-Congress political space to the BJP and Sangh Parivar.
In Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, the Sangh’s first taste of power was in coalition with Janata factions, which have vanished now. Part of these Janata factions were swallowed by the BJP, while the rest joined other parties including the Congress, making neatly polarised politics in these states. In the exceptional cases of UP and Bihar, Janata descendants got the better of the BJP, with Mulayam and Nitish keeping it under check, as adversary and ally respectively.
The BJP’s brush with power in Karnataka too started with its support of a Janata government led by Ramakrishna Hegde in 1983. Hegde, S.R. Bommai and Deve Gowda emerged as the big leaders of the Janata that split and merged at will ever since. The BJP allied with any faction that was willing to and slowly improved its own foothold. In the 1998 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP had Hegde’s support and the alliance won 16 of the 28 seats; in 1999, another Janata faction led by J.H. Patel and the BJP were in alliance.
Between 1999 and 2004, Deve Gowda consolidated his JD-S and won 58 assembly seats. It entered into an alliance with the Congress that led a government that lasted for 20 months. Kumaraswamy became chief minister with BJP support for the next 20 months and then JD-S refused to support the BJP for the next 20 months, as per the agreement, paving way for the current election. Meanwhile, the JD-S was falling apart, with Siddaramaiah and M.P. Prakash landing in Congress and P.G.R. Scindia joining the BSP.
Gowda had claimed his party was expanding its social base beyond the Vokkaliga caste. But the election results suggest the JD-S may not even be holding onto the Vokkaliga base, as the BJP is mopping it all up.