In Karnataka, alliance with BJP hints at shift in JD(S) strategy towards Muslim voters
While both the BJP and the JD(S) hope to benefit from the alliance, the JD(S) is now vying on the Vokkaliga vote bank.
As Janata Dal (Secular) forms an alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for 2024 Lok Sabha polls, several Muslim leaders have resigned from the JD(S) signalling a shift in the party’s approach towards its Muslim vote bank in the state, political experts said. However, the alliance is likely to give the BJP an upper hand in the long run, experts added.
A day after the JD(S) joined the BJP-led NDA, senior Muslim leaders including Syed Shafiullah, the party’s senior state vice-president, resigned from all party positions. More Muslim leaders are said to be contemplating a similar move, and have decided to hold consultations at the district-level on their next course of action.
While both the BJP and the JD(S) hope to benefit from the alliance, the JD(S) is now vying on the Vokkaliga vote bank, after its strategy of garnering Muslim votes backfired in the recent Assembly elections. While nine of the 15 Muslim candidates fielded by the Congress won, none of the 22 fielded by the JD(S) did.
“In the 2023 Assembly elections, the Muslim votes largely went to the Congress. The survey data also indicates that. The JD(S)’ argument is that the Muslim votes are anyway not with us, so, what are we going to lose by aligning with the BJP? Their argument is that by aligning with the BJP, they can secure the benefit of an alliance,” political analyst Sandeep Shastri said.
However, Shastri pointed out that the JD(S)’ strategy is debatable. “The BJP, when it is in an alliance, has been successful in getting the ally’s vote transferred. But the ally has never been successful in getting the votes of the BJP transferred. So, the JD(S)’ hope that the alliance will vote in their favour can still be a question mark.”
Shastri was referring to the BJP gaining from the Janata Dal’s vote bank in 1998-99 when former chief minister Ramakrishna’s Hegde Lok Shakti Party tied up with BJP after the Janata Dal crumbled. A big chunk of the Lingayat vote bank shifted to the BJP.
In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP won 25 of 28 seats but lost Bengaluru Rural (Congress), Mandya (Independent), and Hassan (JDS). “This time, if they concede even 4 seats to the JDS, BJP will only be contesting in only 24 seats, which is less than what they won last time,” Shastri added.
But Shastri said that the BJP’s long-term plan is to make Karnataka a bipolar state with the main parties being the BJP and the Congress. “One way of doing this is to marginalise the JD(S). This is a strategy which has been tried across the country.”
Political analyst A Narayana, however, pointed out that to say that it was only Muslims who didn’t support the JD(S) is not a valid argument. He said that there was an erosion of vote base for the JD(S), adding that the Muslim vote factor is just an alibi.
“Muslims voted strategically in the 2023 elections and in certain constituencies they did support the JD(S), for example, in Channapatna. In some other constituencies they might not have supported because the Muslims had an acute sense of insecurity and they wanted to see the BJP defeated,” Narayana said.
“Also, it’s not just the Muslims who didn’t vote for them. There was an erosion of vote base for the JD(S) in general. This happened in constituency like Ramanagara, where Kumaraswamy’s son contested and lost. That was a Vokkaliga dominated constituency and if this community supported JD(S) lock, stock and barrel, then they should’ve won.”
Narayana said that the JD(S) is holding out the argument because they wanted to go with the BJP as it is becoming difficult for them to run the party as an independent entity because there has been a continuous erosion of support base. “Their vote base and the number of seats that they have been winning have been declining. I think they have lost their confidence to run as an independent regional party.”
“Therefore, they see some incentive in associating themselves with the BJP, hoping that in 2024, if the BJP comes back to power, they will be able to have some stake in the central government. They have been out of power for such a long time that after 2023, their confidence to hold their own flock together has also taken a hit. Due to this they wanted to go with a stronger party and this Muslim vote factor is just an alibi,” Narayana pointed out.
Another political analyst Chambi Puranik said that for JD(S), it’s a sheer matter of survival because it’s a Vokkaliga-based party. “It shows that in order to save the party, keep their identity and their strong Vokkaliga base, the JD(S) has aligned with the BJP without the fear of losing the Muslim vote base.”
“Ideology and other things come into the picture, only when you have your own strong base of bargaining power. As a regional party, the JD(S) has taken a very clever, pragmatic decision to align with the BJP. It also augurs well for the JD(S) financially. BJP will definitely come to the rescue of JD(S) like a big brother. If the funding is assured, rest of the things will follow,” Puranik said.
Shastri said that if the alliance comes through, one hope of the BJP is that there could be a shift of a Vokkaliga votes in their favour. “This is the hope the BJP nurses from this particular election. Whether that happens is something we need to look at. In 2019, when Congress and JDS were an alliance, has the Vokkaliga vote transfer already happened to the Congress is an important question we need to look at. So, would the remaining votes which continues with the JDS, will that get transferred to the BJP? It remains to be seen.”