Secret agent: on JD(S) in Karnataka polls

A kingmaker with only one option is no kingmaker at all. The Janata Dal (Secular) is probably headed for a third-place finish in Karnataka, but is banking on making its seats count in a hung Assembly, which many opinion polls suggest is likely. The party’s ‘secular’ outlook did not prevent it from partnering in a coalition government with the Bharatiya Janata Party in 2006; notwithstanding the protestations of patriarch H.D. Deve Gowda, another such arrangement between the two parties cannot be ruled out. Mr. Gowda likes to put all the blame on his younger son, H.D. Kumaraswamy, for the 2006 partnership and vows it will not be repeated. But the reasons that drove the party to join hands with the BJP at that time have not disappeared now. The support bases of the two parties are in different regions, with the JD(S) confined to Mysuru and southern Karnataka where the Vokkaligas have a strong presence. The BJP relies heavily on the Lingayat vote in north and central Karnataka. Therefore, neither party is fearful of conceding space to the other. The Congress remains the principal rival for both. Although the 2006 experiment ended badly with Mr. Kumaraswamy refusing to keep his end of the bargain, senior BJP leaders are not likely to let the past hold the future hostage.

Indeed, Prime Minister Narendra Modi indicated as much when he praised Mr. Gowda, and sought to blame Congress president Rahul Gandhi for not showing the JD(S) leader enough respect. This might have been intended to send separate signals to JD(S) leaders and the BJP cadre. One, that the BJP is still willing to do business with the JD(S). Two, that in constituencies where the fight is between the Congress and the JD(S), the BJP, rather than finish a close third, would have the JD(S) win. Not surprisingly, both Mr. Gowda and Mr. Kumaraswamy have sought to downplay Mr. Modi’s remarks. Too much proximity to the BJP prior to the election is not going to help the JD(S), which would like to keep its supporters interested in the contest as a three-way fight. Prior to its coalition with the BJP, the JD(S) had indeed been in a coalition with the Congress, but the prospects for such a situation have dimmed in the years since. In addition to its concerns of the Congress encroaching on its political space, the JD(S) has one other difficulty: the rise of Siddaramaiah in the Congress. The Karnataka Chief Minister was earlier a front-ranking leader of the JD(S), and his rebellion remains a sore point with Mr. Gowda and his son. But depending on the nature of the verdict, it will not be averse to building bridges with a Congress without Mr. Siddaramaiah, even if only to increase its bargaining position with the BJP. Without doubt, the JD(S) is the unknown agent in the political mix.

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Printable version | Jan 20, 2022 7:46:43 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/secret-agent/article23763759.ece

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