An octogenarian-opportunistic father, a mediocre son, often conned by the Congress and routinely ridiculed by the BJP. So far, this is the story of Karnataka Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy.
It began with the victory for Congress-JDS coalition in Bellary in November last year, giving a sense of false hope to CM Kumaraswamy. Like many other leaders in the coalition, Kumaraswamy believed that the by-poll victory had overcome the issues of an internal rift within the alliance, which could give him some sort of flexibility in the administration of the state.
However, the victory for the Congress party in the three North Indian Hindi heartland states of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chattisgarh altered the equation between Congress and JDS forever. Congress victory in these states had two major implications on Karnataka politics. One was Congress chose to exert more pressure on the coalition government and secondly, Congress party, with the initiative of Congress leadership, began to snatch away the political capital that JDS enjoyed within the state, especially in Old Mysore region by weakening the JDS party itself.
With three states in its kitty, Congress had got its political and financial foundation to fight the incumbent NDA coalition led by Narendra Modi in the Lok Sabha elections. This has led to Congress party being more assertive in Karnataka without having any apprehension of losing power in the state. Perhaps, CM Kumaraswamy may not have anticipated such a turnaround for the Congress in these states.
Apart from Punjab, Karnataka was the only big state where Congress had some sort of political power in the country, which it had to secure at any cost ahead of the Lok Sabha elections. The compulsion for the Congress to be in a coalition government in Karnataka started fading out following assembly elections in three states. Once Congress in Karnataka understood the desperation of the JDS to be in power, it began to be authoritative, further pushing Kumaraswamy and his party into a corner.
Four months later, with the announcement of Lok Sabha elections, the faultlines within the coalition have begun to reveal itself. The Congress party has literally ‘conned’ the JDS party with a one-sided alliance, which is set to benefit mostly Congress and further damage JDS in its own backyard of Old Mysore region. Even though JDS did not have any choice other than an alliance with the Congress, the seat-sharing agreement has further pushed the JDS into a serious crisis.
The Congress-JDS coalition had finally reached a seat-sharing arrangement with Congress seizing 20 seats and 8 seats were left to its junior partner JDS. Out of the eight seats, JDS was given three seats out of six seats in Old Mysore region- Hassan, Mandya and Tumkur, one seat in Central Karnataka-Shimoga, one in Mumbai Karnataka- Vijayapura, two in Coastal belts- Udupi-Chikkamagaluru and Uttara Kannada along with the Bangalore North Lok Sabha constituency.
Unsurprisingly, three out of the eight seats of the JDS will be contested by the members of HD Devegowda family, with former Prime Minister HD Devegowda himself contesting from Tumkur, while his two grandsons are contesting from Mandya and Hassan Lok Sabha constituencies. In Shimoga, another BJP stronghold, the battle is going to be between two sons of former state Chief Minister as JDS has fielded Madhu Bangarappa against BY Raghavendra, son of former CM BS Yeddyurappa.
The Congress party happily ceded two of the three coastal belt seats to the JDS in exchange for seats in Central and Hyderabad Karnataka. Coastal Karnataka is the bastion of the BJP, while JDS has no vote-base in these regions whatsoever. The JDS is in such a bad state in these regions that they had to get a Congress leader on ‘loan’ to field him as a JDS candidate in Udupi-Chikamagalur seat. In both Vijayapura and Uttara Kannada, the JDS cadre is too thin to take on the BJP, which traditionally has a strong organisational structure in these regions.
Interestingly, JDS has already forfeited its share of Bangalore-North constituency to Congress as they were unable to find a candidate. In Tumkur, the incumbent Congress MP has now turned rebel against the party after he was denied a ticket and he is all set to take on HD Devegowda.
The realities in Mandya and Hassan are interesting too. The two grandsons of HD Devegowda will be contesting in JDS bastion, which is touted to be a contest to decide the future successor of the party. In Hassan, Prajwal Revanna, son of de-facto Chief Minister HD Revanna announced his candidacy which prompted HD Kumaraswamy to ‘parachute’ his son to Mandya to make sure that his son gets to be the successor of the party. In fact, Prajwal Revanna is fighting a tight battle in the Hassan against the once non-existent BJP, while HDK’s son Nikhil, who had a devastating acting career is set to take on Sumalatha, wife of actor-turned-politician MH Ambareesh. HD Devegowda, who had gifted his seat to Prajwal Revanna to contest from Tumkur, thinking winning Tumkur would be a cakewalk, has now realised that it was a blunder as Congress leadership has yet again outmanoeuvred him by instigating the incumbent MP to contest against the former Prime Minister.
The Congress party has actually played an intelligent game in the state by agreeing on a practical seat-sharing deal with the JDS. Congress understanding its inability to win against BJP in few seats ceded those seats to its junior partner JDS in exchange for seats in Central and North Karnataka as Congress believes that they have a fighting chance in these regions.
In Old-Mysore region, the Congress did not want to give away too much leverage to the JDS and has manoeuvred tactically by giving support to some of the rebel Congress leaders to make it tough for the JDS candidates to secure a clean victory. With the entry of Sumalatha into Mandya and unwillingness of the Congress cadres to support JDS candidates in Old Mysore region especially in Hassan and Tumkur, the JDS may suffer huge setbacks in its own bastion.
The Congress is actually aware of the fact that it is not going to reap larger gains in the Lok Sabha elections as historically BJP has always outperformed both the JDS and Congress in the state. However, Congress party seems to be conscious and hopeful regarding the outcomes of these Lok Sabha elections and its impact on state politics in the future.
Meanwhile, the BJP has found itself to be on a comfortable side as it is not only survived by the chaos within the coalition but also to a Pro-Modi wave that exists in the state currently. The voters of the state are sensing a pro-Modi wave much larger than 2014 which is even evident even in JDS fortress-like Hassan. It is evident with the fact that a former Congress strongman has decided to quit his party to contest on a BJP ticket against the JDS.
Despite the fact that the BJP party in the state is in doldrums, the Modi factor has insulated them from any serious downfall. It is not unknown today that the BJP does not have a formidable leadership in the state, which was displayed recently during the failed attempts to lure MLAs from the Congress-JDS coalition to form a BJP government. Nevertheless, BJP with its strong organisational structure and the large presence of cadres in the states will be expecting to win at least 16-18 seats. With growing resentment within the coalition, it is not surprising if BJP gets an additional two or three seats from Karnataka.
The biggest casualty to emerge out the 2019 Lok Sabha elections may well be the Janata Dal as the prospects of party increasing its tally from the current two seats looks dim. Addition to this, the future of the coalition government will also have an impact after the Lok Sabha elections as Congress may further exert pressure on the JDS coalition.
Former HD Devegowda, who had snatched the erstwhile ‘Janata Dal’ from the likes of Ramakrishna Hegde and Jayadevappa Halappa Patel, eventually built the current Janata Dal-Secular and evolved himself to be a ‘King Maker’ in the state. The ‘Narcissism’ which HD Devegowda brought into the state politics with promotion his sons, seems to be creating a challenge to the party’s own existence. With just days to left for the polls, it is rather interesting to not only know that how much will this rift within the coalition impact the polls but also know whether JDS will be still relevant in the state politics.