In Karnataka, former PM Deve Gowda’s JD(S) may influence the poll outcome
Former prime minister HD Deve Gowda’s hopes ride on support from Vokkaligas and Mayawati’s backing in Karnataka elections.Karnataka Elections 2018 Updated: Apr 29, 2018 07:03 IST
Former Prime Minister HD Deve Gowda is 84. He has not been in power since 2007, when his Janata Dal (Secular), or JD (S) was part of the ruling coalition with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Karnataka. Deve Gowda’s son HD Kumaraswamy refused to keep a promise to transfer the chief minister’s post to BJP’s BS Yeddyurappa, a situation that forced fresh elections and brought the BJP to power on its own for the first time in a southern Indian state.
Deve Gowda and Kumaraswamy have become more isolated and the JD (S) more marginalised since. The BJP ruled Karnataka between 2008 and 2013 and the Congress has held power for five years. The JD(S) could not find a place in the ruling coalition at the centre, too. Losses in many by-elections held in the last 10 years has pushed it further against the wall.
The crucial battle
The Magadi assembly constituency is part of Ramnagara district on the outskirts of Bangalore and a stronghold of JD (S). It chose a JD(S) candidate, HS Balakrishna, in the 2013 election, when the Congress won Karnataka. Balakrishna has crossed over to the Congress and the latter’s candidate in the previous election, Manju, joined ranks with the JD(S). The political summersault by the two candidates, however, doesn’t bother Deve Gowda loyalists. They vow to vote for Manju, who was a rival last time.
“Deve Gowda and his son are our leader. We vote for them,” said Ramanuja, a farmer in Magadi. “The JD(S) government a decade ago ensured development of this region.”
The Congress is JD(S)’s main rival and the BJP is not even in the reckoning for electors here. In Krishnarajpet assembly constituency, currently held by Narayan Gowda of the JD(S), voters are dismissive of the BJP, and divided between the Congress and the JD(S).
The caste divide is sharp and vertical. The Vokkaligas – the influential land-owning community to which Deve Gowda belongs – outnumber other communities. The scheduled castes are sizeable in number and divided between the JD(S) and the Congress. The Muslims favour the Congress over the JD(S).
“Deve Gowda is fighting his last battle as an active politician. We cannot ditch him,” said Somesh, resident of a village in Krishnarajpet. His companion Raju agreed with him as they waited for an auto-rickshaw. “Congress is not bad. But, Deve Gowda is our leader.”
Deve Gowda is a father figure for the Vokkaligas in the old Mysore region, and his 58-year-old son Kumaraswamy a leader who remains connected to his people. The message that Deve Gowda may not be as active as he is today in the next assembly election has an emotional appeal among his loyalists, who are in a majority in most of the constituencies. That is an advantage for JD(S) in the old Mysore region.
Kumaraswamy was the runner-up in the previous assembly election. His JD(S) fielded candidates in 222 out of Karnataka’s 224 constituencies, won 40, stood second in 50 and third in 63 other seats. The JD(S) polled about 6.4 million votes, most of which came from the old Mysore region, comprising districts such as Bangalore, Bangalore Rural, Ramnagara, Hasan, Mysore, Mandya and Charajanagar.
The JD(S) won two out of three seats in Ramnagara and four out of seven seats in Mandya district in the 2013. The Congress could pick up just three seats in these two districts. The BJP drew a blank. Three out of 11 seats of Mysore went to the JD(S) and eight to the Congress. The JD(S) drew nil in Chamrajnagar and won two out of five in Bangalore Rural. Hasan was a near sweep for the JD(S) with a tally of five out of seven seats.
The stronger the JD(S) is, the weaker the Congress gets in this region. Kumaraswamy has tied up with Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) of Mayawati. The move is aimed at gaining some traction for the JD(S) among the Scheduled Castes, a community to which the Uttar Pradesh leader belongs. Even a marginal swing of the SC votes towards the JD(S) improves chances of it doing better than the last time.