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It’s Catch-22 But This Is Why BJP, JDS Need Each Other In Karnataka


The Bharatiya Janata Party and the Janata Dal (Secular) have made their partnership official and the latter is set to join the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance ahead of next year’s Lok Sabha election.

Details about seat-sharing are still unclear at this time. Senior BJP leader BS Yediyurappa had claimed the smaller party will contest four seats but that was denied by JDS leader HD Kumaraswamy. He told NDTV “details will be revealed after (next week’s) Ganesh Chaturthi”.

In the 2019 Lok Sabha election BJP won 25 seats. The JDS – then with the Congress – got one. Now, after a resounding defeat in the 2023 Assembly election – the BJP won 66 seats, less than half the Congress’ 135, and the JDS its second-worst tally of 19 – the two defeated parties have joined hands.

Layering the Lok Sabha results over the Assembly segments map, the Congress won 18, the BJP eight and the JDS two. Maintaining a strong presence in Karnataka is crucial for the BJP as it faces headwinds in Bihar and Maharashtra due to an exodus of allies.

State election results may not necessarily be replicated in a general election since the ‘Modi factor’ is likely to kick in for the BJP. In the Assembly polls, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the reason for 19 per cent to vote for the BJP, according to Axis My India. That number was over 50 per cent for the 2019 election, according to a survey by the Centre for Study of Developing Societies.

Despite this, surveys predict a two-six seat loss for the BJP, with a corresponding decline of seven per cent vote share, as shown in the graph below.

JDS-BJP tie-up before Lok Sabha polls in Karnataka

The Congress is upbeat and creating a pool of its own labharthis, or welfare beneficiaries, to counter the BJP’s model, which is implemented by the centre. It now has Vokkaligas and Lingayats voting for it, apart from the AHINDA (marginalised classes and Muslims) creating a big social coalition.

The local BJP unit is in disarray amid reports of intense factionalism. So much so it has not yet been able to name its Leader of Opposition nominee, with the party returning charge to Mr Yediyurappa.

Chief Minister Siddaramaiah has even speculated the BJP may have decided to do the unthinkable and back Mr Kumaraswamy for the position.

JDS patriarch and ex-Prime Minister Deve Gowda has said the decision to ally with the BJP, was “essential” to “save” the regional party. The alliance, he said, “does not mean JDS has nothing left… even the BJP should not think so.”

The JDS is facing an existential crisis after its Assembly tally fell to half, 19 in 2023 versus 37 in 2018.

Almost all of these – 17 seats, to be specific – were in traditional strongholds of Old Mysuru and Bengaluru. The JDS is now fearing an ‘Operation Haath’ by the Congress targeting the few MLAs it has, similar to the ‘Operation Kamala’ carried out by BJP to steal away rival lawmakers.

Mr Deve Gowda has claimed Siddaramaiah was conspiring to end the JDS in order to avenge a 2018 election defeat against a JDS candidate and for developments that forced his explosion in 2005.

The JDS was also peeved at the Congress for not following coalition dharma and its inability to transfer votes to its candidates in the 2019 election, which led to the defeat of Mr Deve Gowda from Tumkur and Mr Kumaraswmay’s son, Nikhil, from Mandya.

The Congress didn’t ally with the JDS in 2023 and made a big dent in its Vokkaliga vote bank. The community support for the JDS fell by 30 per cent in 2023, according to the CSDS, and 22 per cent of this was lapped up by the Congress.

The Congress has also pitched Deputy Chief Minister DK Shivakumar, who is a Vokkaliga leader, to compete directly with the Gowda family. Now, the JDS risks losing further support from the influential community as now even the Congress can make a Vokkaliga Chief Minister.

The BJP will hope the JDS can transfer its Vokkaliga votes to the party and help it gain in southern Karnataka (Old Mysuru and Bengaluru regions). As a trade-off, the JDS will hope for Brahmin, Lingayat and some OBC votes that should compensate for the loss of minority, tribal and Dalit voters to the Congress. Both parties gain in the short term, though trust deficit exists.

The BJP needs to maintain its tally in Karnataka, it also needs allies in the southern part of India to show its acceptability to voters. And, as Mr Deve Gowda said, the JDS needs the BJP for survival.

However, it is a Catch-22 situation for the JDS as the BJP may aim for a permanent steal, or even a temporary dent, in the socialist party’s vote base. It cannot, after all, brush aside the risk of another Shiv Sena-type strike in the long term.

The BJP’s aggressive push in the Old Mysuru region – where it gained vote share and helped the Congress win more seats – harmed the JDS in the 2023 election. The historically frosty relationship of power transfer in 2007 has an overhang on this renewed friendship.

However, the need of the hour is for both to come together. It’s a win-win for both parties.

(Amitabh Tiwari is a political strategist and commentator. In his earlier avatar he was a corporate and investment banker.)

Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.

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