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In Pre-Poll Karnataka, JD(S) Takes Backseat as Cong-BJP Fight it Out

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The Janata Dal (Secular) (JDS) has suspended eight MLAs who cross-voted in the recently concluded Rajya Sabha elections. With Assembly elections fast approaching, the party which was banking on a hung house is on the verge of a split.

JD(S), the third prominent player in Karnataka, had hoped it would play the role of kingmaker. However, the contest in the state is increasingly becoming one between the BJP and the Congress.

With the Congress ‘poaching’ its MLAs, BJP trying to woo its anchor voting segment, the Vokkaligas, and the party’s alliance with BSP not taking off — JD(S)’ prospects are not looking too bright.

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Also Read: Siddaramaiah’s Lingayat Decision Kills Many Birds With One Stone

The last week was particularly eventful for the main contestants in Karnataka. Three defining incidents took place, which are likely to have a significant influence over the outcome of the polls.

  • The Siddaramaiah cabinet forwarded a proposal, granting status of a separate religion to the Lingayats, to the central government for consideration.
  • The Veerashaiva Mahasabha rejected the Congress government’s move, terming it as political and alleging that it aims to create a divide between Lingayats and Veershaivas.
  • Eight rebel JD(S) MLAs cross-voted for the Congress candidate in Rajya Sabha elections, jeopardising the chances of its official candidate. JD(S) suspended all of them; consequently, seven of them joined the Congress.

Tough Times for JD(S)

The JD(S) is becoming less relevant in the state. This could particularly be because of the high-handed behaviour of HD Kumaraswamy, who obviously lacks his father Deve Gowda’s astuteness. The Congress has also been able to sell the story that JD(S) is actually playing into the BJP’s hands and will tie up with the saffron party in case of a hung Assembly. This is driving minorities and backward classes (who form the AHINDA block) away from JD(S).

The rebellion within JD(S) is the second largest exodus within the party. The first was when Siddaramaiah, along with many other leaders, joined Congress just before the 2008 polls leading to a decline in JD(S)’ seat tally from 58 in 2004 to 28 in 2008.

BSP chief Mayawati has declared open war against the BJP and tied up with SP to defeat Modi in 2019. However, JD(S)’ decision of hobnobbing with the BJP to remain in power has also made Mayawati cautious, thus, preventing her from going all out to call Dalits to vote for its ally JD(S) in the state.

Support for JD(S) from various caste groups.
Support for JD(S) from various caste groups.

Also Read: Siddaramaiah Ups Ante With ‘Lingayat Move’ Amid BJP Threat to Cong

Congress’ Win Could Crush Vokkaligas & Lingayats

JD(S) gets 35 percent-40 percent of its total votes from the upper caste (Brahmins, Lingayats and Vokkaligas), 25 percent from OBCs and another 35 percent-40 percent from Dalits and minorities. While BJP is eyeing the upper caste vote bank of JD(S), Congress is eyeing the minority vote bank.

With Siddaramiah’s pitch for the division of Lingayats being rejected by the Mahasabha, BJP hopes to woo the Vokkaliga voters of JD(S). A section of the community fears Siddaramiah’s ‘backward caste politics’ may reduce their dominance in Karnataka politics. They fear that after Lingayats, Vokkaligas could be Siddaramiah’s next target.

It’s an election which will shape the future politics of Karnataka; a win for Congress could severely dent the hold of Lingayats and Vokkaligas in the state. The present Assembly has 103 MLAs (almost half of total strength) from the two communities, 53 Vokkaligas and 50 Lingayats, which is almost twice their population size. Karnataka has had five chief ministers from the Vokkaliga community till date, and seven have been Lingayats. BJP is trying to exploit this prevalent fear of losing dominance.

Vokkaligas account for 12 percent of the population and are the dominant peasant caste of Old Mysuru. Around half of them have traditionally backed JD(S). The caste census, which allegedly portrays a decline in their population, has angered the community against Siddaramaiah. Vokkaligas in Mysuru may still vote for JD(S), however, in seats where JD(S) is weak, they might back the BJP.

The community has influence over 130 odd seats in the state. This could provide an additional 3 percent-5 percent vote share to BJP from the Vokkaligas. In 2014 Lok Sabha elections, BJP received the highest support from Vokkaligas (38 percent) followed by JD(S) (31 percent) and Congress (29 percent).

Also Read: Karnataka Polls 2018: BJP, Congress Pin Hopes on ‘Vokkaliga’ Vote 

Low Chances of a Hung Assembly in K’Taka

While JD(S) fancies a hung Assembly, its chances are pretty low according to noted political scientist, Dr Shastri. He cited two reasons to OneIndia as to why the state will not witness a hung Assembly:

  1. The fact that the JD(S) has been limited to small pockets of influence would ensure that the party would end up being a distant third.
  2. This year, no political transition has taken place unlike 1983 and 2004. A hung Assembly is seen when the state is in political transition.

This is evident from the fact that voters are increasingly giving a clear mandate in the states, except smaller states. The BJP election machinery does well against incumbent governments; it has won 13 elections since May 2014.

The BJP is trying to form an axis of the Lingayat and Vokkaliga voters accounting for 29 percent of the population and banking on the ‘Modi magic’ to sail through. With JD(S) weakening, BJP hopes to form an umbrella alliance of Brahmins, Lingayats, Vokkaligas and OBCs to edge past the Congress in Karnataka.

Also Read: How BS Yeddyurappa Emerged as Karnataka’s Lingayat Strongman

(Amitabh Tiwari is a former corporate and investment banker turned political commentator, strategist and consultant. He is co-founder of LoudST and author of ‘Battle of Karnataka’. He can be reached @politicalbaaba. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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