Family politics, bane of JD(S)  

H D Kumaraswamy (File Photo)

The H D Kumaraswamy government is tottering and one of the reasons for this predicament is that the ruling Janata Dal (Secular) which should have by now emerged as a formidable regional party in Karnataka capable of standing on its own without the crutches of Congress or BJP, has over the years been reduced to a family enterprise.

JD(S) supremo H D Deve Gowda has obviously not learnt any lessons from the severe drubbing he and his party received in the recent Lok Sabha polls, where the voters outright rejected the family brand of politics patented by him.

While Gowda himself lost in Tumkur, Nikhil Kumaraswamy being the sitting chief minister’s son had to face a humiliating rout in the Vokkaliga heartland of Mandya. While resentment was brewing in the party over the style of functioning of the leadership, the appointment of Nikhil as the president of JD(S) youth wing, overlooking other meritorious candidates was the last straw.

The Gowdas, have consistently demonstrated that for them, the interests of the family come first. The Hassan seat which is considered a family fiefdom was relinquished by Gowda, not in favour of any loyal party worker, but for his grandson Prajwal Revanna.

In Mandya, L R Shivaramegowda who had won the Lok Sabha by-elections just six months ago, was denied a ticket to accommodate Nikhil. Gowda himself eased out sitting Congress MP S P Muddahanumegowda to contest from Tumkur. Given this background, the current revolt by a section of the legislators was long overdue.

Dynastic politics

Though Gowda often asserts that he has never indulged in dynastic politics, the facts speak otherwise with members of his family occupying political posts from the topmost to the lowest echelons of the government. While Gowda himself is a former prime minister, his son H D Kumaraswamy is the chief minister, another son H D Revanna is the public works minister.

Kumaraswamy’s wife Anitha is an MLA from Ramanagara, while Revanna’s spouse Bhavani is a zilla panchayat member in Hassan. D C Thamanna, the father-in-law of Gowda’s youngest son H D Ramesh is the transport minister. Both Bhavani and Ramesh’s wife Sowmya are also said to be nurturing MLA aspirations.

JD(S) is a splinter group of the Janata Party which first came to power in the state in 1983 with Ramakrishna Hegde as the chief minister. The party was once again elected in 1994 under a new avatar, Janata Dal, this time, with Deve Gowda heading the government. A quirk of fate elevated Gowda as the prime minister in June 1996 and one of his first acts after assuming office was to expel Hegde from the party.

In the coming years, anybody who posed a treat to Gowda or his family would be systematically jettisoned. In 1999, the Janata Dal itself split with the then chief minister J H Patel going with Janata Dal (U) and Gowda launching Janata Dal (Secular).

Weak alternative

In 2004, when the assembly elections resulted in a hung assembly, Gowda donned the role of a kingmaker and propped Dharam Singh of Congress as the chief minister, with Siddaramaiah of JD(S) as his deputy. Though Siddaramaiah would have been the natural choice for the chief minister’s post during second half of the term, that was not to be.

Midway through, the Gowdas dumped the Congress and Kumaraswamy was installed as the chief minister with the support of BJP, an ideological rival, thus proving that the first family of JD(S) was ready for any compromise for the sake of power. Ultimately, Siddaramaiah was expelled from the party in 2005, thus removing one more obstacle in the family’s path.

Though regional parties in other states are no less dynastic, many of them have built a strong leadership team outside the family circle. The JD(S) once boasted of some of the tallest leaders in the state, but most of them have now migrated to other parties, with those who remained back fading into oblivion.

The party is now in such a pathetic condition that it could not even muster half-a-dozen candidates to field during the recent Lok Sabha elections, while its area of influence is confined to just a few districts of the state.

Regional outfits have never survived in Karnataka and Gowda deserves credit for keeping JD(S) afloat for so long, but due to his family-comes-first policy, the party has failed to emerge as a strong alternative to the Congress and BJP.

Though Gowda calls himself ‘mannina maga’ or son of the soil, his party has not succeeded in appropriating regional issues like federalism, ‘Hindi imposition’, injustice to locals in banks and central government jobs or Mahadayi water dispute, which are trending among the youth.

The party which could have established itself as a credible voice of the Kannadigas has simply frittered away a golden opportunity that was offered to it on a platter.

(The writer is a Bengaluru-based political commentator)

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