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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 2, New Delhi, December 26 2020

Janata Dal (S) In Karnataka: Facing An Existential Crisis? | P. S. Jayaramu

Saturday 26 December 2020


by P. S. Jayaramu

In Karnataka Politics, Janata Dal (S), popularly known as JD(S), is very much in news. It’s State President Kumaraswamy has supported the BJP led Yediyurappa Government on a few issues where it badly needed his support. Firstly, the amendment to the Karnataka Land Reforms Act (1961which give the right to any one to buy farm land which was previously restricted only to those with agricultural backboard. He defended his decision stating that by ending 79(a,b) of the Land Reforms Act, the new Bill will result in increasing the coverage of agriculture and go a long way in attracting youth to farming and thereby encourage new experiments in scientific farming in place of traditional farming.( The Hindu, December 9, 2020). Kumaraswamy’s support to the Bill has however been criticised by the Congress Party and Farmer Union leaders as betrayal of farmers. Secondly, Kumaraswamy is in league with the BJP Government in its proposed move to remove the Chairman of the Legislative Council, (the incumbent is a member of the Congress Party who got into the position when the Congress-JDS Coalition Government came to power in 2018). The JD(S) has plans of getting the post of the Chairmanship of the Council to itself, instal its seven-time member Basavaraj Horatti in the Chair and leave the Deputy Chairman position to the BJP. Kumaraswamy , even to,d presspersons that talks in this regard are under way with the BJP High Command. (The Hindu——-) Thirdly, Kumaraswamy also came to the aid of the Yediyurappa Government recently in its handling of the State transport employees seeking Government employees status to them, while the Congress Party sided with the employees. Fourthly and more importantly, Kumaraswamy has adopted a soft line on the Centre’s Farm Laws, arguing that opinion is divided on the issue and that Narendra Modi should be given an year’s time to see if the new laws are going to improve the state of the farmers to market their produce as well as add to the income of farmers, all of which is music to the State Government’s ears. In appreciation of this support, Modi was the first to greet Kumaraswamy on his 61st birthday. If we add to it the daily ugly spat going on between Kumaraswamy and Siddaramaiah in the local media about each accusing the other for the break down of the Congress JD(S) Coalition Government in 2019, the picture of Kumaraswamy led JD(S) aligning itself with the BJP seems evident. What are the motivations for such political decisions and what would be its implications on political alignments in the State Politics need to be analysed. We will return to this theme later and first attempt an analytical survey of the way JD(S) as a Party has evolved and played its role in State Politics.

The history of the Janata Dal (Secular) in Karnataka can be traced to the Janata Party which was established in 1977 in response to the emergency. Some of its members like Deve Gowda and J. H. Patel were part of the Ramakrishna Hegde led, first non Congress Government which came to power in 1983.

The Janata Dal emerged out of the Janata Parivar in1994, won the elections and formed the Government with Deve Gowda as the Chief Minister. The split in the Janata Dal at the national level in 1999 into JD (United) and JD (Secular), resulted in both the factions emerging as separate entities in the State. In the 1999 elections, the JD(S) got only10 seats while the JD(U) managed to secure18. The two Parties contested the 2004 Assembly elections separately with the JD(S) winning 58 seats, its largest ever, while the JD(U) secured only 05 seats. As no party secured a majority to form the Government, the JD(S) became part of the Congress led Coalition Government under the Cheif Ministership of Dharam Singh. However, the Coalition partners did not see eye to eye on many issues and openly quarrelled among themselves, with governance becoming the casualty. They even contested the local body elections separately. The Coalition Government fell in 2006 leading to the unprecedented development of JD(S) leader Kumaraswamy forming a Coalition Government with the BJP, much against the wishes of Deve Gowda, with an understanding that the two Parties would head the Government for twenty months each. As is well known, Kumaraswamy did not hand over power to Yediyurappa as per the understanding, leading to the fall of Government, leading eventually to Assembly elections in 2008.

In the elections, the JD(S) won only 28 seats due to popular disenchantment with Kumaraswamy’s politics of betrayal which was cashed in handsomely by Yeddyurappa during his election speeches throughout the State. In the 2013 Assembly elections to the State Assembly, the JD(S) was able to win 40 seats only. The elections brought the Congress Party to Power, which lasted its full term.

In the May 2018 Assembly elections, despite hectic campaigning by Deve Gowda and Kumarswamy, the Party was able to win only 37 seats. None of the contending Parties were able to get the majority to form the Government. The Congress and the JD(S) formed the Coalition Government thanks to deft and swift political management by Deve Gowda and the Congress led by Rahul Gandhi. Such has been the electoral history of the JD(S) in Karnataka.

A brief look at the performance of the JD(S) in terms of its social base and geographical reach is in order. In terms of its social base, the JS(S) confirms the popular perception that it is a vokkaliga dominated Party. A look at the seats won by the Party in the recent Assembly elections reiterates this. Of the 42 Vokkaliga MLAs in the Assembly, the JD(S) has 23 members. The Party has only 06 SC and 01 ST representatives.

It must however be added that with the failure of the Party to retain its seat in the Assembly by-elections in 2019 and 2020 in its strongholds of K R Pet and Sira respectively, the JD(S)‘S hold in the old Mysore region too, has declined. The electoral debacle in Sira recently happened despite the Party’s national President Deve Gowda literally camping there and campaigning for its candidate. In both the by-elections, the BJP, which had no base in the constituencies, registered victories, thanks to deft political management. JD(S)’s hold over the Vokkaliga voters too is declining. Additionally, the Party is lagging far behind in terms of expanding its social base. With Viswanath deserting the Party in 2019 and joining the BJP, the Party’s OBC representation too is very dismal.

Geographically too, the Party’s spread in the central, northern, Hyderabad-Karnataka and coastal regions of the State is poor, resulting in its failure to project a pan Karnataka image and reach. To add to its woes, the Party’s hold over southern Karnataka is diminishing. If we add to it, the failure of the Party to attract urban voters, the picture of the Party’s declining political status becomes clearer. An equally important reason for the growing decline of the Party lies in its essentially dynastic character. The Party is popularly known as a ‘father- son Party’( Deve Gowda’s elder son, his grand childrens -one is an MP-and the other, Kumaraswamy’s son failed to get elected to the State Assembly) with no organisational strength and cadre. Dynasty has made the Party dysfunctional. Kumaraswamy’s disinterest in ideology and his pursuit of politics as a business( he was a film producer before getting into politics, a business he still perhaps handles side by side) and his unabashed statement that his father’s obsession with Secularism, has come in the way of his political ambitions being realised are the other strong negative factors hindering the growth and performance of the JD(S)in Karnataka .

Against the above background, let us turn back to our analysis of the coming together of the BJP and the JD(S) in terms of the political goals of the two Parties. The BJP’s longer term goal is to contain and checkmate its main adversary, the Congress Party in the 2023 Assembly elections by, if necessary, getting into an electoral understanding with the JD(S) and put up either common candidates or field candidates to divide the votes to its advantage and the disadvantage of the Congress. For the JD(S) under Kumaraswamy, Congress is its principal political adversary and an understanding with the BJP would help it achieve its goals. The Party’s national President Deve Gowda seems to have given his tacit approval as can be seen in his strategic silence on the issue.

Continuing with our understanding of the JD(S)’ bonhomie with the BJP, it needs to be noted that Kumaraswamy’s closer rapport with Yediyurappa which is exacerbated by his visceral hatred towards the Congress leader Siddaramaiah.

Additionally, Kumaraswamy’s longer-term game plan, given his political ambitions, perhaps is, that he could become a Nitish Kumar for the BJP in Karnataka. That is, if no Party obtains a majority in the next Assembly elections, he could bargain for CM’s post by supporting the BJP to form a Coalition Government. If not CM’s post, depending on the numbers, he may settle down to the post of Deputy Chief Minister with important portfolios given to his Party men.

At this juncture, it is also worth examining the rumours of Kumaraswamy merging the Party with the BJP. Kumaraswamy has reacted to the queries by presspersons in this regard with a cryptic statement: No merger, but nothing could be ruled out in politics!

Finally, one of the scenarios being projected is that with its depleting strength in the State Legislature, coupled with its inability to retain its political base in the southern Karnataka and by its inability to expand its social base and geographical reach, followed by Deve Gowda’s ostensibly declining interest and hold over the Party, it may really be an uphill task for Kumaraswamy to handle the possible existential crisis the JD(S) may face in times to come. This perhaps, helps understand his softness towards the BJP. However, we have to wait and see how things pan out.

(Author: Dr.P. S. Jayaramu is former Professor of Political Science, Bangalore University and former Senior Fellow, ICSSR, New Delhi.)

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