Rahul Gandhi has called Deve Gowda’s party the B team of BJP, which has upset him. But when it comes to govt formation, both would forget these remarks as poll rhetoric.

As the Karnataka assembly elections are nearing, the poll fever is reaching its height with politicians and poll pundits coming up with different predictions.

The first is the Congress retaining power. The second is the Congress emerging as the single largest party but without majority. Then the options are open to both the Congress and the JD(S) to form a coalition government. The third is the BJP winning a majority. The fourth is the BJP emerges as the single largest party without a majority. Here again, JD(S) can play a role.

A pre-poll survey conducted by C-Fore suggests that the Congress will not only return to power but also improve its tally. Some other opinion polls have hinted towards a hung assembly and have predicted a close contest between the three major parties – ruling Congress, BJP and JD (S). A Times Now-VMR opinion poll this week has indicated a photo finish in the elections and predicted that the JD (S) could emerge as the kingmaker. The India Today Karvy insights opinion poll, predicted last week a hung assembly and also made the Janata Dal (Secular) a kingmaker, giving the JD(S)-BSP combine 34 to 43 seats. JD(S) was the key player in forming coalition governments, first with the Congress and later shifting its support to the BJP earlier. A hung assembly scenario is quite possible because the state never returned the same party for a second term since 1985, and no chief minister has returned after a full term after Devraj Urs in 1978.

The question is whether the JD(S) chief and former Prime Minister Deve Gowda will pull a rabbit out of his hat this time.

Stakes are high for the JD(S) just as the Congress and the BJP. It has been out of power for more than a decade and its workers are getting restless. Gowda is ageing and the future of the party is not known. It is battling dissidence and erosion of its leaders. It is a family party where Deve Gowda is an MP, his two sons Revanna and Kumaraswamy, are MLAs; daughters-in-law Anitha Kumaraswamy and Bhavani Revanna are also in politics. Also, it is seen as an unreliable ally.

The JD(S) has stronghold only in eight districts — Mysuru, Mandya, Hassan, Ramanagara, Tumakuru, Bengaluru Rural, Kolar and Chickballapur. Gowda is depending on this region and his Vokkalinga base. To boost his party’s chances, he has formed an alliance with the BSP. While the JD(S) has support from Vokkalinga and Lingayats — the BSP alliance might help Dalit support. He has also roped in two regional parties from the neighbouring Telengana — the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen and the Telengana Rashtra Samithi, to campaign for him. The AIMIM has some influence in the old Hyderabad-Karnataka region. In the 2013 polls, the JD(S) won 40 seats with a 20 per cent vote share but in 2014, it got a mere 11.07 per cent votes with just two seats in Lok Sabha.

The JD (S) is in direct fight with the Congress only in 75 seats. While the best-case scenario could be above 40 seats, the worst-case scenario would be a just about 20 to 25 seat.

So, a hung assembly and a kingmaker role is what suits Gowda. As of now, he has not opened his cards. Congress president Rahul Gandhi has called his party the B team of the BJP, which has upset him. But when it comes to formation of the government, both would forget these remarks as election rhetoric. Gowda would like a repeat of the 2005 assembly results when he blocked Siddaramaiah, the front-runner for the chief minister’s post and backed the Congress leader Dharam Singh. Even now, he would block Siddaramaiah and make it a condition for support.

Deve Gowda and Siddaramaiah go back a long way, as Gowda was his political guru in the early days of his career. The relationship broke when Gowda promoted his son Kumaraswamy. Siddaramaiah quit the JD(S) in 2006 and joined the Congress and went on to become chief minister. The wily Gowda will support whoever gives his party maximum advantage. He has no qualms about bargaining with both the Congress and the BJP depending on the results.

Opinion poll and exit poll results have not always come true. But the prediction has given a boost to the JD(S) in the run-up to the polls. Karnataka is important because the results will be a game-changer for both the Congress and the BJP as they move forward to fight the Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Mizoram polls later this year. For Gowda, becoming kingmaker will be a shot in the arm when his party is vanishing.

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