Discontent in JD(S) after govt collapse, concerns grow over desertions
Rumblings of dissent persist in the Janata Dal (Secular) two months after a rebellion in the party and its partner Congress brought down their Karnataka coalition government, fuelling speculation that more desertions may be in the works despite efforts by JD (S) chief and former prime minister HD Deve Gowda to end the discord
The party is struggling to convince doubters within its rank and file that there is still space for a regional political party in Karnataka, where the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) under BS Yediyurappa came to power after the July 23 resignation of HD Kumaraswamy, Deve Gowda’s son, who headed the JD (S)-Congress coalition.
Some JD (S) leaders have seized the opportunity to hit out at Deve Gowda, 86, and his perceived propensity to put his family before the party. Former ministers GT Devegowda and SR Srinivas spoke out against the party recently, and a party leader met former chief minister Siddaramaiah in a move that was seen as heralding his shift to the Congress. Last week, MLA KM Shivalinge Gowda became the latest leader to demand that Siddaramaiah be the chief minister again.
Deve Gowda’s elder son HD Revanna admitted to concerns of potential desertions at a press conference earlier this month where he said there was a conspiracy to finish the JD(S). “JD(S) has managed to save its identity, but national parties are conspiring to end this. None of this will work, because the JD(S) will survive as a regional party,” he said.
The coalition government collapsed after a string of resignations by lawmakers of the ruling Congress and JD (S) reduced it to a minority
To be sure, doubts within the party were amplified by its dismal performance in the Lok Sabha polls, where it managed to win only one of the seven seats it contested and couldn’t even ensure Deve Gowda’s victory in the race for the Tumakuru seat.
Some JD (S) politicians saw the party’s inability to save the coalition as proof that they should move to the Bharatiya Janata Party or the Congress, the principal national parties, a senior leader said on condition of anonymity. It prompted others in the party to tell Deve Gowda and Kumaraswamy that the party should ally with whichever party was in power.
The problem plaguing the party leadership, one JD(S) rebel leader who is still in the party told HT, was that it was incapable now of looking beyond the welfare of the Deve Gowda family.
“It is very clear that Deve Gowda will work only to uphold the interests of his family,” the JD(S) rebel MLA said. “Earlier, we had to bow to Deve Gowda, but now we have to subordinate our aspirations to those of his grandchildren as well.”.
The JD(S) leader, who was a minister in the coalition government, said there were at least 10 others in the party who shared his opinion. “Everybody is waiting for the right time because it is very clear now that there is no saving this party,” he added.
All the rebel leaders who spoke to HT refused to comment on the record on whether they would quit the party.
Another leader said that it was in the party’s interest to try and ensure the survival of the coalition with the Congress. “Everybody knows that the Congress leaders lost interest in running the government because of Revanna’s interference in their ministries. That being the case, Kumaraswamy should have tried to address the issue because we needed power more than them. We will not come back to power any time soon,” the second rebel leader said.
As the JD(S) battles for its existence, a leader from the HD Deve Gowda camp said, it was essential that it at least retains the number of the MLAs it currently has. At present, the JD(S) has 34 MLAs after three of its legislators were disqualified for rebelling against and ensuring the downfall of the coalition government.
The pro-Deve Gowda leader said that the party was fairly certain of losing two of the three constituencies that were vacated by its former MLAs. This has put the party in a quandary, especially because under the leadership of union minister Amit Shah, the BJP is making all out efforts to make inroads in the Old Mysuru region where the JD(S) is the Congress’s direct rival.
BJP’s efforts so far to breach Old Mysuru has so far yielded poor results. However, its recent victory in the elections of the Karnataka Milk Federation, a JD (S) bastion for long, was seen as part of a strategy to oust the regional outfit from its bastion. One senior BJP leader said that the party had realised that to strike at the JD(S), it was essential to make inroads into the cooperative societies through which the party exercised power.
The JD(S) appears to have one ace up its sleeve still. That is HD Deve Gowda himself. The party patriarch has been tirelessly engaged in efforts to rejuvenate the party, making it a point to be at the JD (S) office almost every day since he lost the Tumakuru Lok Sabha election in May and meeting the rank and file.
The first rebel leader quoted above said this was another proof of the party’s slide. “Deve Gowda is in the party office because he knows his sons have brought it to the street. That party office will be closed if he doesn’t even do this,” he said.
Another JD(S) leader, a former minister who is close to Kumaraswamy, said the party was certain to survive given the support it has from Karnataka’s Vokkaligas, one of the state’s dominant communities . “We know that Vokkaligas will always consider Deve Gowda as their leader so there are no fears there,” he said.
The rumblings come at a time of increased focus from the BJP to try and woo the Vokkaliga community, by bringing raking up allegations that Kumaraswamy tapped the phones of Vokkaliga seer Nirmalananda Swamy and his close aides.
The JD(S) is now busy preparing for by-lections to 15 seats in the assembly, three of which it held before the MLAs of these constituencies were disqualified. The bypolls have been deferred to December 5. The first step in answering its critics both within and outside will be to defeat the rebels in the three seats the JD(S) won in 2018.