Yediyurappa’s announcement Friday had ignited the possibility of a formal coalition between the BJP and the JD(S) 16 years after their bitter falling out in 2007.
“Deve Gowdaji met our Prime Minister. They have already finalised about four seats. I welcome that,” Yediyurappa had told reporters in Bengaluru.
Former PM Gowda has been denying speculations of an alliance for weeks now while his son and JD(S) leader H.D. Kumaraswamy has reportedly been dropping hints, but not making any formal commitment.
“They (BJP) have the need and are hence making the statements. But we have to tread cautiously. Our seniors (apparent reference to Gowda and Kumaraswamy) are still finalising talks and will take appropriate decisions,” Sharavana T.A., JD(S) spokesperson and deputy leader of the legislative council, told ThePrint.
At least two leaders of the JD(S) told ThePrint on condition of anonymity that talks between seniors of both parties are “ongoing” and details like seat-sharing are yet to be finalised.
If the coalition talk goes through, it would be the very first pre-poll, state-level alliance between the two parties who have attacked each other for being “family-run” and “communal”.
Those aware of the developments said that the JD(S) is trying to keep its members from leaving the party on the back of the crushing defeat in May and the BJP is trying to gain access into the Old Mysuru region where it has little to no presence.
Speaking to ThePrint, Narendar Pani, a Bengaluru-based political analyst and a faculty member at the National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS), said, that the JD(S) is still on the fence as it was sending ‘feelers’ to its support base to gauge their reaction before formalising any alliance.
“This is to try and capture the narrative. This statement (by Yediyurappa) might just be that so that they reach out to each other’s voters,” said Pani.
The BJP has been in power twice but never managed to win a majority in the assembly polls because of its limited presence in several districts of southern Karnataka. The party, said analysts, has much to gain from a “desperate” JD(S) which is facing a crisis.
“The BJP gains more as they will get access into Old Mysuru, which they did not have before, and consolidate their votes against the Congress,” Pani told ThePrint.
The BJP lost 38 seats from its 2018 tally of 104 and registered just 66 wins in 2023, but still managed to retain its vote share of 36 percent. The Congress’s vote share went up by nearly 5 percentage points, from 38 percent in 2018 to nearly 43 percent in May. The JD(S) was the biggest loser among the big three political parties with only 13.3 percent vote share, losing nearly 5 percentage points, which was seen to have directly shifted to the Congress in the Old Mysuru region.
The fear of being wiped out is what has dictated the terms of the proposed coalition, said analysts, adding that since the opposition INDIA alliance has also refused to entertain the JD(S), it has left the regional outfit with little choice but to seek protection to save itself from the Congress’s growing threat in the southern districts.
“The JD(S) is accepting a very minor role which means that the last elections have hurt them very badly,” Pani said.
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The Vokkaliga vote
JD(S) is the only party to have allied both with the BJP and Congress, each time justifying its coalition and earning the monikers ‘kingmakers’ and ‘opportunistic’.
In 2007, Kumaraswamy’s decision to abruptly end the JD(S)-Congress alliance and seek the support of the BJP had sent Gowda to the hospital for months. The party’s alliance with the BJP had broken down soon after.
Kumaraswamy has largely maintained that it was one of the biggest mistakes of his life even though the JD(S) and BJP continue to have alliances and informal agreements at the local, state and national level.
But now, the JD(S) has more to lose, feel political observers.
The BJP still retains a chunk of the Lingayat community’s support but the same cannot be said for Vokkaligas and JD(S).
“The Lingayat vote has largely and firmly been with the BJP, though there was some dent in it in the assembly polls. I have no reason to believe that if there is a BJP-JD(S) alliance, that Lingayat vote will not remain with the BJP. But with such an alliance, there is a possibility of the Vokkaliga vote shifting to the BJP,” Sandeep Shastri, political analyst and national coordinator of the Lokniti Network, told ThePrint, adding that a BJP-JD(S) coalition will have better chances of success only if the parties can effectively manage seat sharing.
In 2019, the BJP had won an unprecedented 25 out of the 28 Lok Sabha seats. The party had officially backed the candidature of an independent, Sumalatha, in Mandya who defeated Kumaraswamy’s son, Nikhil.
According to Sharavana, the JD(S) is demanding seats in the Old Mysuru region from where it draws most of its political might. But Shastri warned that allowing the BJP into its backyard may also be a problem.
“If you were to lose the Vokkaliga vote by allowing the BJP to contest a chunk of the seats. Now, how do you get back that vote the next time you contest the assembly election?” he said.
The coming together of Vokkaliga and Lingayat-backed parties will further put pressure on CM Siddaramaiah and his AHINDA-brand of politics (a Kannada acronym for minorities, backward castes and Dalits), as well as contain attempts to release the findings of the 2015 caste census which threatens to reduce the population proportion of the two dominant groups.
Lingayats and Vokkaligas are believed to be the two biggest caste groups in the state and their influence over politics and social life is significant even though there is no empirical data to back this claim. Out of the total 24 chief ministers of Karnataka, Lingayats and Vokkaligas have taken the top chair 16 times. Such is their influence that any perceived attack on the community or its pride or challenge to its dominant status often entailed significant political cost.
Together BJP-JD(S) could counter Congress
Buoyed by the success of its five ‘five guarantees’ and assembly election victory, the Congress hopes it can repeat the success in other state polls as well as ignite a national revival of the party.
The BJP, meanwhile, has other states where it can make up for any shortfall in Karnataka. The JD(S), however, doesn’t have this option.
There has been just one instance of a post-poll alliance for general elections since the turn of the century when Congress and JD(S) decided to expand their state-level coalition to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
The two parties were reduced to just one seat each as warring workers refused to overlook decades of fighting and instead chose to back the BJP. Deve Gowda chose to vacate his Hassan seat for his grandson, Prajwal Revanna, who became the sole JD(S) MP in 2019. Gowda’s other grandson, Nikhil lost in Mandya after party workers refused to back the decision to constantly overlook local leaders and field more family members.
Last week, the Karnataka High Court declared null and void the 2019 election of Prajwal and even issued notices to his father H.D. Revanna and brother, Suraj, for suppression of income as well as corrupt election practices.
Gowda, now 90, has also been unable to contain the growing conflict between his two sons — Kumaraswamy and Revanna — as they battle each other for dominance within the party.
Kumaraswamy, though, has been unwell and announced last month that his actor son, Nikhil, will not be contesting the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, which will likely impact the family’s overall claim on control over the party.
Meanwhile, the BJP, too, has suffered a crisis after Yediyurappa was forced to step down as CM in July 2021. The divisions within the party grew after Basavaraj Bommai took over and lost power in May.
The party high command has not announced any change in leadership despite the crushing defeat and the BJP remains without a Leader of Opposition as well as a new state president.
But together the JD(S) and BJP will have some strength to contain the Congress. It can stop the smooth passage of bills in the state Legislative Council where the Congress has 29 members while the BJP has 34 and the JD(S), eight.
Meanwhile the Congress has called the ‘alliance’ between the BJP and JD(S) a ‘major plus’ for the ruling party.
“Hidden Understanding between A Team [BJP] and B Team [JD(S)] is out in the open. This is a major plus point for the Congress Party. There was a small group of fence sitting voters. All the voters who believe in democracy, pluralism, constitution and federalism will now vote for the Congress,” MB Patil, Karnataka’s minister for large and medium industries as well as senior Congress leader said in a post on X.
(Edited by Zinnia Ray Chaudhuri)
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