JDS-BJP deal could be first step towards ending Karnataka’s ‘adjustment policy’

Electoral necessities almost always trump ideological grounds when it comes to forging political alliances. It is therefore not surprising that former Prime Minister HD Deve Gowda’s Janata Dal (Secular), which, as its name suggests, has little ideological affinity with the BJP, would join an alliance with the ruling BJP led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

While the JDS and the BJP have been allies in the past – the state unit of the BJP led by BS Yediyurappa formed a coalition government in Karnataka with HD Kumaraswamy, Deve Gowda’s son, as chief minister in 2006 – the entry of the JDS into the NDA is now a very important event. another chapter in regional party politics.

This is the first time that the JDS has formed an alliance before the polls when it is not in power at the head of a coalition government in Karnataka. He has always exercised “raw” negotiating power after elections. Every time Kumaraswamy had forged an alliance, it was to occupy the post of chief minister. In 2019, he fought the Lok Sabha elections as a Congress ally only because the Congress – which had 80 MPs compared to the JDS’s 37 – ceded the chief minister’s post to him. Similarly, in 2006, he broke his alliance with the BJP as soon as he had to relinquish his post as chief minister.

Second, and more importantly, the JDS is at an all-time low. It was mishandled by the Congress in the Assembly elections, and secured only 19 seats and 13 percent of the votes, its lowest level since its formation in 1999. So this time it is a question of an alliance for the very survival of the regional force. The BJP is in charge and it will stay there for the long haul. There are also compelling regional reasons for the national party to join this alliance.

It is a known fact that, traditionally, the BJP’s Achilles heel in Karnataka has been the JDS strongholds and the main voter base of the regional party’s OBC Vokkaliga caste.

For example, the BJP won 25 of the 28 parliamentary seats in 2019 and lost the seats of Bengaluru Rural (won by Congress’s DK Suresh), Mandya (won by Congress rebel and independent candidate Sumalatha) and Hassan (won by the grandson of HD Deve Gowda). Prajwal Revanna).

In fact, in 2019, the BJP candidate for the Hassan parliamentary seat was A Manju, who was a JDS rebel and later returned to the party and won the Hassan Assembly seat in 2023. The BJP has never won all three of these seats, although it has won at least 17 of the state’s 28 parliamentary seats consistently since 2004.

These seats, along with five others, define the region of electoral influence of the JDS. In an assembly poll, this translates to around 50 seats. From the BJP’s perspective, the alliance with the JDS is the first step towards a decisive overhaul of Karnataka’s political arithmetic, both for the 2024 assembly elections and beyond. He needs to capture the JDS’s voter base, which is strongly caste-affiliated and essentially anti-Congress at the core.

The BJP is already considered the bastion of the largest voting bloc in Karnataka – the Lingayat sect. The OBC Vokkaliga caste base of the JDS is the second largest voting bloc in Karnataka. While the Lingayats are spread across Karnataka, the Vokkaligas are concentrated in the JDS region of influence. Putting the two together is a recipe for success, but it’s easier said than done.

The BJP appears to be considering a possible merger of the JDS with it, as many small fragments of the erstwhile Janata movement have done in other states, which would create a bipolar discourse between the Congress and the BJP in Karnataka.

One of the reasons why the BJP never got a simple majority in the southern state, despite winning the parliamentary polls, is its weakness within the JDS. In an Assembly poll, a three-way fight has always benefited the Congress on the JDS ground.

For example, in 2023, the BJP attacked the JDS vote in old Mysore, which helped the Congress sweep the region. OBC Deputy Chief Minister and state Congress president DK Shivakumar hails from the Vokkaliga caste and has devoted immensely to decimating the JDS in districts like Mandya. His work was made easier by the BJP’s vote-splitting for the JDS.

Beyond this simple calculation, the presence of a third strong actor within the JDS is one of the reasons for the famous “adjustment policy” of Karnataka. Clandestine political arrangements, family ties and business dealings between powerful political families in several constituencies cut across party lines. Although such relationships are a reality of Indian politics, it can be argued that they are much more prevalent in Karnataka.

This is perhaps the reason why Karnataka has the richest MPs in the country and although the state has never voted an incumbent government to power since 1985, some incumbents have never lost their seats for decades. They change parties with impunity.

Dominant sections of the BJP’s central leadership saw this as one of the main reasons for the party’s inability to win a simple majority in the state despite massive parliamentary polls. In fact, in 2023, the BJP tried to circumvent these arrangements, but failed miserably.

This ‘adjustment policy’ is also the reason why the Congress central leadership is cautious in decisions in Karnataka. For example, in 2019, when the Congress-JDS alliance was toppled in the state, many, if not most, of the 13 Congress MLAs who resigned and switched to the BJP in support of BS Yediyurappa were considered loyalists of current Chief Minister Siddaramiah, who himself switched from JDS to Congress in 2004.

Some of these MLAs are now considering returning to the Congress and have publicly displayed their closeness to Yediyurappa, who was a master of striking alliances with MLAs across party lines to bring the BJP to power.

The BJP central leadership has been keen to end this ‘adjustment policy’ as it limits the party’s hold on the government and also limits its growth in the state. Some sectors of the state leadership have not yet given in. Having a strong third actor within the JDS is the first obstacle to ending such adjustments. So, the national party will use all weapons at its disposal to ensure the transfer of votes from the JDS to the BJP in 2024 and the seat-sharing deal is likely to reflect this.

Moreover, if the 2024 experiment succeeds for the BJP – nationally and locally – it will make progress in cannibalizing the JDS vote. The JDS is not in a position to fight back. There are several factions in the Deve Gowda family. HD Kumaraswamy’s brother and former minister HD Revanna is considered closer to the Congress.

If the JDS disintegrates after 2024, different factions could move in different directions and, in more ways than one, Kumaraswamy’s entry into the NDA could well be the start of a long journey with the BJP. A path where the BJP runs the show for him and which could redefine the political arithmetic of Karnataka.

For now, Deve Gowda, who claimed to be the secular ally of the Left Democratic Front in Kerala for years, could be further proof that ideological positions are conveniently forgotten when his party tries to “rise from the ashes like a phoenix » ! (Gowda had told reporters that he would rise like a phoenix when ousted as prime minister in 1997)

(TM Veeraraghav is the editor-in-chief of BQ Prime.)

Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.


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