Karnataka polls 2023: Battle of survival for JDS or kingmaker once again?

News Network
January 15, 2023

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Will the 2023 Karnataka assembly polls be a battle of political survival for former Prime Minister H D Deve Gowda-led JD(S), or will the regional party once again emerge as a kingmaker, like it did in 2018, in the event of a hung verdict?

Plagued by desertions, internal rifts, and with the image of a "family party", it remains to be seen how Gowda's son and former Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy, who is in a way single handedly managing the JD(S)' affairs with aging father taking the back seat, would steer the party in the upcoming Assembly polls.

Since the time of its formation in 1999, JD(S) has never formed a government on its own, but had been in power twice in coalition with both national parties- for 20 months with BJP from February 2006 and with Congress for 14 months after the May 2018 assembly polls- with Kumaraswamy as the Chief Minister.

This time however, the party has set an ambitious target of "mission 123" to independently form a government on its own by winning at least 123 out of total 224 seats going for polls by May, and has been seeking votes repeatedly invoking regional Kannadiga pride and asserting itself to be the only Kannadiga party.

There are however doubts among political observers and within a section of the party itself about JD(S) meeting this ambitious target, as the party's best ever performance so far has been in the 2004 assembly elections, when it won 58 seats, and 40 seats in 2013 was its second best.

In the 2018 polls, JD(S) had managed to win 37 seats. However, some party leaders are hopeful about the JD(S)' prospects of coming to power, by winning a few more seats than they did last time, and once again using the knack of power politics, by holding the key for government formation, in the event of a hung verdict.

"If such a situation arise we will certainly push for our Kumaranna (Kumaraswamy) to become the Chief Minister, but we will be more cautious on our choices and the bargain with the probable alliance partner this time after last time's bad experience," a JD(S) functionary not wanting to be named said, as he maintained that if not 123, the party will at least better its tally this time.

The party’s vote share is stagnant, if not shrinking. It has been ranging between 18-20 per cent, as the party has managed to continue its hold on a sizable number of constituencies, predominantly in the Vokkaliga belt of Old Mysuru region. It is this Gowda family’s hold over the Vokkaliga community that dominates the Old Mysuru region comprising 61 seats (excluding the 28 constituencies in Bengaluru), which the ruling BJP and Congress are looking forward to breaking and improving their prospects.

Congress is considerably strong in Old Mysuru region and has been a traditional rival for the JD(S) in the belt, the BJP however is weak here and is aiming to make swift inroads with an aim to get a clear majority.

Union Home Minister Amit Shah during his recent visit had asked his party leaders to concentrate on the region.

According to political analyst A Narayana from the Azim Premji University, how strong or weak the JD(S) actually is can be decided only after the candidates list is announced, because its survival depends on how many strong aspirants rejected by other parties join it. "It decides two things- the percentage of votes JD(S) is going to poll and the number of seats they win. In constituencies where JD(S) doesn't have strong candidates, they depend on rejects from other parties," he said.

Further, he said that the question is also whether the JD(S) is stronger or weaker in their core area of old Mysuru, when compared to 2018. It appears on the face of it that they are weak, for two reasons- one series of desertions since 2018, second Congress is in a better position among the Vokkaligas; one of the factors for it is D K Shivakumar (a Vokkaliga) as President.

"Also in the 2018 elections, JD(S) won in Mandya and Hassan districts, only because of Vokkaliga anger against Siddaramaiah, and that seems to have not disappeared now but subsided," he said, adding that how the BJP making inroads in Old Mysuru region will affect the JD(S) or Congress, is the question that cannot be answered at the moment.

Political observers are also of the view that the perception about JD(S) being too family centric is one of its major drawbacks.

Eight members of Gowda's immediate family are into active politics. Gowda, who is the JD(S) supremo, is also Member of Rajya Sabha from Karnataka, while his son Kumaraswamy is a former CM and MLA from Channapatna. Kumaraswamy's wife Anitha is MLA from Ramanagara segment, and his son Nikhil, who is the JD(S) youth wing President, had unsuccessfully contested the 2019 Lok Sabha polls from Mandya. The party supremo's elder son H D Revanna is a former minister and MLA from Holenarsipura, his wife Bhavani Revanna was a member of the Hassan Zilla Panchayat, and their sons Prajwal and Suraj are MP from Hassan and a MLC respectively.

The Gowda family has its representation in all the four major houses of public representatives- Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha, Legislative Assembly and Legislative Council.

James Manor, University of London professor, who has been a keen observer of Karnataka's politics, during a webinar recently said, family-centred politics is causing discontent and leading to desertion. "JD(S) suffers from over-centralisation and dictatorial leadership." Narayana too echoing similar sentiments said, the party is perceived to be "over family centric", even among Vokkaligas, leading to leaders deserting the party. "It was also one of the primary reasons for JD(S)' rout in 2019 Lok Sabha polls, which was its lowest point ever since the party's formation."

According to some political observers, JD(S) inability to grow beyond the Vokkaliga-dominated old Mysuru region, other than in certain select pockets of north Karnataka is seen among its other drawbacks.

Kumaraswamy on Saturday however exuded confidence that his party will grow beyond its traditional old Mysuru region in the upcoming assembly polls and form a government on its own strength in Karnataka. He also claimed that there is a strong undercurrent in favour of him and his party, especially in rural areas.

Narayana further pointed out that Vokkaliga's support for JD(S) has not been consistent. "Of all the caste groups in Karnataka, I would say that Vokkaligas are more matured voters...In one election they will support Deve Gowda and when they perceive that his government or party has not done well or have disappointed them, they don't hesitate in shifting to Congress. This has happened consistently."

Amid questions of the party's survival and "shortage" of active leaders, Kumaraswamy is on a "Pancharatna Ratha Yatre", a statewide tour that he is undertaking ahead of polls.

This Yatre is to inform people about a five-fold programme called 'Pancharatna' that the JD(S) plans to implement on coming to power, which includes quality education, farmer welfare and employment. He has already announced a list of 93 candidates for the assembly polls, and will announce the second list of 50-60 candidates in about 10 days. " I want to give opportunity to fresh faces...want to build a second line of leadership in the party," he has said.

JD(S) believes it suffered damage in 2018 polls, when the Congress repeatedly called it the BJP’s ‘B’ team, which resulted in Muslim votes going away. The party's decision to bring C M Ibrahim as its state president might be a step towards regaining minority votes. However, noting that any such impact would be marginal, Narayana said, as there a growing sense of insecurity among Muslims this time they may go for strategic voting in which they may completely vote in favour of a party or in favour of the candidate, who is most likely to win against BJP in their segment.

Whatever said and done, one needs to be careful before writing off the JD(S), as before every election since 2008, discussions have always taken place in media and political circles, about it being a battle of survival for the regional party, but it has continued to remain a relevant force, according to political analysts.

Pointing out that this is seen by some quarters as Deve Gowda’s last election, Manor had recently said, "His emotional pleas for votes may attract more support from Vokkaligas than that of Shivakumar’s. Also, some Vokkaligas resent Siddaramaiah’s emphasis on minorities, backward classes and Dalits. Perhaps, the JD(S) may not do too badly, and if it does even somewhat well, it will be bad news for the Congress." 

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News Network
January 28,2023

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Pune: A local court in Pune has acquitted all accused, including Hindu Rashtra Sena chief Dhananjay Jayram, in the case of lynching of Mohsin Shaikh, 28, in 2014. The court of additional Sessions judge SB Salunkhe, acquitted all accused in the case, defence lawyer Sudhir Shah said.

As many as 21 activists of the Hindu Rashtra Sena, a radical outfit, were booked in the case. Twenty of them were arrested by the police while one of them turned out to be a minor. All accused were later released on bail.

The case dates back to June 2, 2014, when Mohsin, an engineer by profession, was attacked while he was returning after offering prayers at a mosque in Hadapsar. The attack came in the wake of tensions prevailing in the city after certain objectionable images of Shivaji Maharaj and Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray were circulated on social media.

As per the FIR lodged by Mohsin’s brother at the Hadapsar police station in Pune, the assailants, allegedly owing allegiance to the HRS, intercepted Mohsin and his friend Riyaz Ahmed at Satav Plot in Unnati Nagar around 9.15 PM. “As Mohsin had a beard, a skull cap and was wearing a light green Pathani shirt, they attacked him with hockey sticks and banged a cement block on his head,” the FIR reads.

Mohsin died after a few hours while being treated at a hospital.

Initially, senior advocate Ujjwal Nikam was appointed as the Special Public Prosecutor in the case on the request by Mohsin’s family to then Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan. However, Nikam’s appointment was opposed by Anjum Inamdar of the Rashtrapremi Kruti Samiti on June 12, 2014, citing Nikam’s links to right-wing groups.

Nikam’s appointment as the SPP was also opposed by Congress’ Rajya Sabha MP Hussain Dalwai in July 2014. Eventually, Nikam requested that his appointment be cancelled, which the government accepted in 2017. The case was subsequently argued by Ujjwala Pawar and later by Dhaigude Patil.

“It is unfortunate that all the accused were acquitted due to lack of evidence. We will support Mohsin’s family in the legal battle further,” Inamdar said.

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News Network
January 22,2023

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Chandrapur, Jan 22: A police mock drill in a temple in Chandrapur in Maharashtra landed in controversy after the personnel posing as terrorists were allegedly shouting slogans connected to a particular community.

A group of lawyers has submitted a memorandum to the district police authorities on the issue, while Superintendent of Police Ravindrasingh Pardeshi on Sunday said all efforts would be taken to ensure such an error is not repeated.

The mock drill, which was conducted on January 11 at the renowned Mahakali Temple here, enacted a scene in which a group of terrorists took over a place of worship and held devotees hostage before being apprehended by security forces. 

"Videos of the drill showing the personnel who played the part of terrorists in the mock drill shouting particular slogans. This portrays one community in a negative light and makes one believe all terrorists are from this community," said Farat Baig, part of lawyers' group here.

"We have submitted a memorandum to the office of the district SP against such sloganeering and portrayal. This act of the police amounts to defaming a community. Obviously, the script of the mock drill must have been overseen by the SP and other senior officials," Baig said.

When contacted, SP Ravindrasingh Pardeshi said his department will "take necessary steps to ensure such an error is not repeated". The mock drill was carried out by personnel from the local police, the Anti-Terrorism Squad, the specialised combat unit C-60, among others, officials said.

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News Network
January 24,2023

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Bengaluru, Jan 24: Former Minister and BJP MLA Ramesh Jarkiholi, who recently had promised Rs 6,000 per vote, has now said that saffron party would form government in Karnataka even if doesn’t get majority. 

“I am sure that the BJP will win majority seats. But even if that does not happen, the party will form the government. We will do whatever it takes to form our own government,” he said. He was speaking at a party rally in said in Gokak. 

A couple of days ago, Jarkiholi had had stirred controversy after announcing Rs 6,000 to everyone who votes for BJP. “I urge you not to vote for our candidate if we don't give you ₹ 6,000,” he announced during a BJP rally in Belagavi. 

Jarkiholi has taken credit for the defection of the 17 Congress and Janata Dal(S) legislators to the BJP that brought down the coalition government led by H.D. Kumaraswamy.

Jarkiholi was forced to resign from his ministerial post in 2021 following his alleged role in a sex scandal.

The Congress demanded that the Election Commission take the former minister's remarks into consideration.

"This goes to show the level of corruption in the BJP. Why isn't the Election Commission or IT or ED not taking note of this?" said Congress MLA Priyank Kharge, who is also the state party's communications in charge.

"Operation Lotus is a fact. He's endorsing it. There are two and a half lakh voters. This isn't a joke. Isn't this malpractice by a BJP leader? Where is BJP getting all this money from?? Why no suo motu (investigation) by Election Commission?" he added.

Elections to the Karnataka Assembly are slated to take place in May.

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