Former prime minister and Janata Dal (Secular) leader HD Deve Gowda has been scathing in his remarks against BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi. From saying that voting for Modi would be “harmful to the country” to “where should Muslims and Christians be sent if he is elected”, Gowda has been openly critical of Modi and has repeated in his interviews that the JD(S) will not support the BJP-led NDA.
However, Gowda and the JD(S) have been accused of supporting the BJP in the recently concluded General Election in Karnataka. In at least three high-profile constituencies, the JD(S) has allegedly come to the aid of BJP candidates over other alternatives. While some call it the betrayal of the secular causes that the party has been espousing over the years, others see the politicking of a shrewd politician in the party’s move.
Ever since the Election Commission declared the polls, Gowda has been harping on the possibility of forming a non-BJP, non-Congress third front government at the Centre. With his old acquaintances in the Left parties, he has been predicting a hung Parliament where both the BJP and the Congress will fall short of the required numbers to stake claim at power; paving the way for a third front government backed by the Congress, like in 1996, when Gowda was elected the prime minister for 18 months. He says all this is to keep the communal forces out of power.
The Communist Party of India (Marxist) in Karnataka finds his claims hollow. CPM leaders accuse JD(S) of pandering to radical Hindu and Islamic outfits in the run-up to the General Election. “The party had an open alliance with the Muslim radical outfit PFI (Popular Front of India) and in several places has helped BJP candidates,” says Karnataka state secretary of the CPM, GV Sriram Reddy.
The JD(S) had a seat-sharing agreement with the PFI in Mysore and Mangalore while the CPM had demanded Chikkaballapur and Mangalore. “They refused to come to an understanding with us. Instead, they wanted to impose their writ. Hence, we had to part ways,” says Reddy, “Nationally, the JD(S) has been in friendly terms with the Left parties. However, it hasn’t supported us in Karnataka.”
The party’s tacit alliance with the BJP can be better observed in the three constituencies where its stand towards the saffron party has been quite evident. Political commentator, Dr Vasu says, “If one just looks at the high-profile Bangalore South constituency, it is enough for one to understand the JD(S)’s politics.”
Bangalore South has a mix of urban and upper-class section of the populace. It is also home to lakhs of workers in the state’s IT sector. The BJP candidate from Bangalore South is five-time MP from this constituency and party general secretary Ananth Kumar. Whereas the Congress’ candidate is Infosys co-founder and former chairman of the Aadhaar project, Nandan Nilekani. “While the constituency is dominated by Vokkaliga and Brahmins. JD(S) decided to field social activist Ruth Manorama, a Dalit,” says Vasu.
The JD(S) is a caste-based party representing the interests of the state’s second largest caste, the Vokkaliga, which constitutes 16 percent of the population. Even though the JD(S) had many Vokkaliga candidates, it decided to field Manorama, a political novice. “It defies conventional logic and just shows that the JD(S) put her up to split the votes in favour of the BJP,” says Vasu.
In Chamrajnagar Lok Sabha constituency, JD(S) party candidate and former minister M Shivanna stayed away from canvassing in the run-up to the polls. In fact, three days before the polling day, he wasn’t even available on his cellphone. Shivanna, who emerged after the polling on 17 April, made sensational headlines the next day, claiming senior JD(S) leaders had struck a deal and worked for his opponents. Vasu claims the directive had directly come from Gowda.
Similarly, political analyst Shiv Sundar says that in Mysore, where BJP candidate Pratap Simha was pitted against veteran Congress leader Adagooru H Vishwanath, the JD(S) asked its party workers to support Simha, who is known for his right-wing columns for the daily newspaper Kannada Prabha.
Simha rose to national fame when his name was included in an alleged hit list drawn by terrorists. The Bengaluru police accused Deccan Herald journalist Muthi Ur Rehman Siddique and DRDO scientist Aijaz Ahmed, along with several others, of conspiring. Siddique was later acquitted by the court.
“The party candidate in Mysore, former Justice Chandrashekaraiah, was fielded to divert votes. The JD(S) tried to shift its voter base to the BJP in order to help defeat the Congress candidate,” says Sundar.
There are several reasons for the JD(S)’s contradicting public stand and electoral tactics. Since the party doesn’t have a strong voter base in Mysore, it wanted to help the BJP to defeat the Congress. In exchange, the BJP sees to it that CM Siddaramaiah is humiliated in his constituency. Siddaramaiah, a former member of the JD(S), was both deputy chief minister and finance minister under the JD(S) government. But after his fall out with Deve Gowda, he joined the Congress.
Sundar points out the Bangalore North constituency where the JD(S) candidate, former police officer Abdul Azeem, was pitted against the Congress’ C Narayanaswamy and the BJP’s former CM Sadananda Gowda. “Azeem’s campaign was funded by BJP’s former minister Katta Subramanya Naidu to wean the Muslim votes away from the Congress. It was an open secret.” Narayanaswamy had quit the JD(S) to join the Congress just before the election.
Both Vasu and Sundar point out that it is not the first time the JD(S) has traded with the BJP for support and seats. In fact, political analysts hold the JD(S) responsible for the rise of the BJP in Karnataka. When the BJP got 18 Assembly seats in 1983 — its highest tally until then — it was because of its coalition with the Janata Dal. Deve Gowda then split the Janata Dal by floating JD(S). The Janata Dal (United) was formed soon after. While the JD(S) represented the interests of the Vokkaligas, the Lingayat went with JD(U) leader Ramakrishna Hegde, and later got assimilated into the BJP.
While during the BJP’s rule in Karnataka, the JD(S) was launching barbs against the then CM BS Yeddyurappa, in the 2013 Assembly polls both the parties got together with each getting 40 seats. In the Lok Sabha by-election in Bangalore Rural constituencies last August, the two came together but lost to the Congress.
So, even when nationally the JD(S) claims to be against communalism, it shares its bed with the enemy in Karnataka. It feels it has greater chances of making it big with the BJP than with the Congress, following the election. Traditionally both the parties have been fighting for the same space and voter base. If the NDA is short of seats, Gowda will enter into an alliance with the BJP and will switch support to the third front if he sees an opportunity there instead.