Limited base, spread

JANATA DAL (S) IN KARNATAKA

Recently, the Janata Dal (S)-led coalition government completed three months in office meriting an analysis of the evolution and working of the party in Karnataka politics. The history of the party can be traced to the Janata Party which was established in 1977 in response to the Emergency. Some of its members like H D Deve Gowda and J H Patel were part of the Ramakrishna Hegde-led government which came to power in 1983.

The Janata Dal which emerged out of the Janata Parivar in 1994 contested 115 seats in the Assembly 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(U) and JD(S) resulted in both the factions emerging as separate parties in the state.

In the 1999 elections, the JD(S) got only 10 seats while the JD(U) managed to secure 18. The two parties contested the 2004 Assembly elections separately with the JD(S) winning 58 seats, its largest so far, securing 20.77% of popular votes while the JD(U) secured only five seats. As no party secured a majority to form the government, the JD(S) became part of the Congress-led coalition government.

The coalition partners did not see eye to eye on many issues. They even contested the local body elections separately as they did recently. The Congress-JD(S) coalition government fell in 2006 leading to the unprecedented development of JD(S) leader H D Kumaraswamy forming a coalition government with the BJP with an understanding that both the parties would head the government for 20 months each. As is well known, Kumaraswamy did not hand over power to BJP leader B S Yeddyurappa as per his promise resulting in widespread criticism of him by the BJP and the media.

In the 2008 Assembly elections, the JD(S) won only 28 seats with 19.44% of popular votes, due to popular disenchantment with Kumaraswamy’s refusal to hand over power to the BJP. This was cashed in 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 with 20.02% of popular votes. The elections brought the Congress to power.

In the May 2018 Assembly elections, despite hectic campaigning by Deve Gowda and Kumaraswamy (in spite of latter’s poor health), the could win only 37 seats with 18.03% of popular votes. None of the contending parties was able to get the majority to form the government. With Yeddyurappa’s unsuccessful bid for power, the Congress and the JD(S) formed the coalition government thanks to deft and swift political management by Deve Gowda and Congress president Rahul Gandhi.

An analysis of the performance of the JD(S) in terms of its social base and geographical reach is very much in order. In terms of its social base, the JD(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 belonging to it while the Congress has 11 and BJP eight. In contrast, out of the 58 Lingayat MLAs, the party has only four while the BJP has 38 and Congress 16. The party has no Brahmin, Muslim and Christian representatives in the Assembly.

As for the SCs, while the Assembly has 36 SCs, the JD(S) has six while the Congress and BJP have 12 and 16 members respectively, with one each belonging to the BSP and independent. The party has very poor representation among the STs too, its share being just one compared to nine each from the Congress and the BJP.

Social composition

The above statistical data shows that the JD(S) is strong only among the Vokkaligas in southern Karnataka. It also reveals that unlike the Congress which is an umbrella party accommodating the social composition of the state’s population and the BJP which is spreading its base among the SCs and STs, the JD(S) is lagging far behind in terms of expanding its social base.

The same is the position as regards the representation of OBCs too. Out of the 21 OBC MLAs in the present Assembly, none belongs to the JD(S) while the Congress has five and BJP 16. One wonders whether the recent appointment of H Vishwanath as the state party president, a Kuruba, is going to endear itself to the OBCs. The Eedigas, another important caste group among the OBCs, need to be brought into the party fold in a big way.

Geographically too, the party needs to spread itself to the central, northern, Hyderabad-Karnataka and coastal regions in order to make itself a pan Karnataka party.

The performance of the party in the recently held urban local body elections in the different regions of the state, leaving out the old Mysore region, is dismal. Out of the total 2,662 seats, the party won only 375 seats compared to the Congress and the BJP which won 982 and 929 seats, respectively.

The JD(S) also needs to make itself acceptable to the urban voters specially in view of the Lok Sabha elections due in 2019. Presently, Deve Gowda is its sole MP from Karnataka. The party needs to restructure itself organisationally. The youth and women’s wings will have to be involved meaningfully.

While the decision to join hands with the Congress party to form the coalition government to keep the BJP out of power may have served the interests of the leaders, the morale of the cadre who see the Congress as its adversary is reported to have suffered substantially. The leadership would do well to address them in all seriousness if the party has to play a mainstream role in state politics.

(The writer is a Senior Fellow, ICSSR at Bangalore University)

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