Crunch time in JD(S) hands BJP an advantage

JD(S) hopes talks of ‘realignment’ with BJP will help it remain relevant

JD (S) is waging a battle for survival with the rise of BJP on one hand and DK Shivakumar of Congress on the other hand

Playing to stay in the game. Credit: DH Photo

If there’s one regional party in India that specialises in the art of playing “kingmaker” it would have to be the Janata Dal (Secular). Despite being nowhere close to a majority on its own, the party has found a way of facilitating governments of other parties as well enjoying power several times – with the Congress in 2004, with the BJP in 2006 and with the Congress again in 2018. Now there is talk of it getting close to the BJP  – TV channels even predicted a merger between the two outfits recently, something denied by both sides immediately. 

While the idea that the JD (S) will merge with the BJP appears too far-fetched at present, yet, nobody in the state’s political circles will deny that the two have been cosying up. And from all evidence, it is the JD (S) that is keen on a ‘realignment’ of sorts. So, what could be propelling the JD (S) into the Saffron party’s orbit and what implications will it have?

To cut a long story short, it’s the good old survival instincts of the HD Deve Gowda family that seem to have resurfaced to ensure that the JD (S) remains in the game. Given that talk of an ‘understanding’ between the two sides cannot be confirmed or denied with certainty any time soon – the polls are still a good two years away – the buzz around this prospect is exactly what the doctor ordered for an ailing JD(S). 

“Today, that question doesn’t arise,” JD (S) supremo HD Deve Gowda said when asked about talks of an alliance with the BJP for the 2023 polls.

“Let’s see what mandate the people are going to give. We’re working towards coming to power on our own.” The former prime minister ruled out “taking his party to somebody else’s doorsteps.”

The party has been losing electoral ground over the years – from having won 58 seats in 2004 state polls, the party now has a strength of 33. Then it is said that HD Kumaraswamy is wary of Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) president DK Shivakumar’s Vokkaliga ‘machismo’, which could decimate the JD (S) in the Vokkaliga-dominated Old Mysuru region. 

With the rise of Shivakumar on the one hand and the BJP’s unwavering campaign to become a pan-Karnataka party on the other hand, there is a very real chance that the regional party could get squeezed out of the picture completely.

What the JD (S) is facing now is nothing short of an existential threat and that is what its current moves are meant to address.

The JD (S) is positioning its moves to befriend the BJP as something that will be mutually beneficial to both sides. JD (S) sources said talks have been held between the BJP central leadership and Deve Gowda around an ‘understanding’ between the two parties keeping the 2023 state polls in mind. “There are several constituencies where the JD (S) stood second [to the Congress] in the 2018 polls. The talks are about having an understanding of these constituencies to benefit us.”

Other JD(S) leaders who spoke to DH said such an understanding would benefit the BJP as well. In the 2018 Assembly polls, the BJP and the JD(S) are said to have had an ‘understanding’ in over two dozen constituencies, including Chamundeshwari, where Siddaramaiah, the incumbent chief minister, tasted defeat. 

The combined vote share of the BJP and the JD(S) in the 2018 polls was 57%, of which the regional party accounted for 20%. In the event of an alliance in 2023, a mutual transfer of votes – both wishful and debatable – is what the JD(S) would want to defeat the Congress, the common enemy. 

But the talk of ‘mutual benefit’ may be hard to sell beyond a point. 

“The JD(S) needs this alliance more than the BJP does,” says former MLC Ramesh Babu, who quit the JD(S) earlier this year after a four-decade-long association to join the Congress. “Over many years, the JD(S) has lost the basic characteristics a political party should have: Office-bearers, committees, and so on. Simple thing: Was there a JD(S) manifesto for the Lok Sabha polls last year?” 

It amuses Babu that some JD(S) leaders are not averse to having truck with the BJP. “The JD(S) was formed in 1999 expressly to fight the BJP,” he says. “Gowda became PM in 1996 and JH Patel became the CM here. A conflict started as Ramakrishna Hegde floated the Lok Shakti party and Patel wanted to go with the BJP. To stop this, Gowda and Siddaramaiah started the JD(S). Today, if you’re looking for an alliance with the BJP, isn’t that opportunistic politics?” he asks. 

Some also say that the talk of ‘realignment’ towards the BJP is ‘confusion’ created by Kumaraswamy to stop the exit of some MLAs who are planning to join either the Congress or the BJP. 

What goes in the JD (S)’ favour is that for Yediyurappa, who is fighting his own battles within the BJP,  its gambit can turn into an advantage. He can let the BJP central leadership know that he would have enough numbers to cause a split if he is unceremoniously removed as chief minister. 

Three-way fight helps BJP

For now, the BJP is happy to get help from the JD(S) in passing key Bills inside the House and dislodge the Legislative Council chairperson. But electorally, the BJP might actually lose out, according to political strategist, Anand V.  “A weakened JD(S) is detrimental to the BJP in getting a majority. The BJP thrives on a 3-way fight and this so-called realignment is out of the question and will be a non-starter,” he says.

Political analyst Muzaffar Assadi agrees. According to him, it is the BJP, and not Shivakumar, that’s a bigger threat for the JD (S) because the BJP is encroaching upon the regional party’s social constituency among the Vokkaligas. “The JD(S) can somehow survive with DK Shivakumar because there’s ethnic affinity. There’s no such affinity with the BJP.” 

If there is a BJP-JD(S) coalition for the 2023 elections, Assadi says the JD(S) will lose. “The Congress will be at an advantage by winning more seats and Shivakumar may even become the CM,” he says. 

In all this, the Congress is playing by the old script. “That’s why we said the JD(S) is the BJP’s ‘B’ team….The BJP wants secular votes to get divided. To counter this and reduce its damage for us, we’ll tell people what the both of them are up to,”  KPCC Working President, Saleem Ahmed, says. 

Assadi points out the danger in store for Kumaraswamy: “If shown a finger, the BJP will eat the hand. Kumaraswamy runs the risk of becoming another SM Krishna – someone without an identity.” 

(Additional reporting by Shruthi HM Sastry)