Bengaluru: Amid speculation of a possible merger between the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and Janata Dal (Secular) in Karnataka, former chief minister and JD(S) chief H.D. Kumaraswamy has said that such a move would tantamount to suicide.
“(Our party is) not stupid enough to commit suicide by merging with BJP,” Kumaraswamy told ThePrint in an exclusive interview.
He, however, admitted that the recent exodus of JD(S) leaders to the BJP has hurt the party and that he was aware that more from his party are on their way out.
“I know well which MLAs are in talks with other parties,” Kumaraswamy said. “I have openly told them that they should stop such anti-party activities and leave the JD(S). They can leave anytime for their survival.”
Kumaraswamy, who has lately backed the government on a number of instances, also clarified that his party’s support to the BJP is issue-based.
“We supported the land reforms bill after they (the BJP) accepted our suggestions for changes in the Act,” he said. “But we opposed the anti-cow slaughter bill. Our support is issue-based.”
Kumaraswamy also admitted that the party made a mistake by joining hands with the Congress in 2018. The JD(S) chief had taken over as the chief minister but the government lasted less than a year, with a number of Congress and JD(S) legislators defecting to the BJP.
“Our biggest mistake was to have joined hands with the Congress. I am not criticising the Congress high command,” he said. “It is the local leaders who have created problems and who we are fighting against.”
The former chief minister cited the coalition with the Congress to reiterate that joining hands with BJP will weaken the JD(S)’s prospects.
The JD(S), however, has been in a coalition with the BJP before. In 2006, Kumaraswamy joined hands with the BJP and took over as the CM, with Yediyurappa as his deputy. The coalition collapsed after Kumaraswamy didn’t transfer the CM post to the BJP after two-and-a-half years as he had promised. In 2008, the BJP came back with a thumping majority under Yediyurappa’s leadership to form the party’s first ever government in southern India.
Party battles mass defections
The JD(S) faced a major setback this year when around 240 party leaders from Rajarajeshwari Nagar assembly seat and surrounding areas joined the Congress en masse, just ahead of the 3 November bypoll.
Rajarajeshwari Nagar’s JD(S) unit president Bettaswamy Gowda, who was a ticket aspirant to contest the bypoll, was among those who joined the Congress.
Former JD(S) MLC Ramesh Babu, party spokesperson and one of its most visible faces, had resigned in March this year after the party denied him a ticket in the MLC elections. Last year, the JD(S) lost three legislators to the BJP, which also poached 18 leaders from the Congress.
Despite the setbacks, Kumaraswamy has new plans for the party. He is confident that the JD(S) will bounce back by 2023 and he will be Karnataka’s chief minister once again.
“I am very confident,” he said. “I have taken up the challenge to ensure that our party will be voted in with a clear majority and I will be able to lead the state again as its chief minister. This is our objective for the 2023 assembly elections.”
Kumaraswamy added that in 1983, after the the then Janata Dal’s tally fell from 60 legislators to just 12, many had predicted the decline of his father’s career. The Janata Dal was the precursor of the JD(S). “We did not lose hope or the trust of our voters and party workers,” he said. “It’s 2020 and we are still here. We will continue to be there and during these eight months since the Covid-19 pandemic struck, I have concentrated on building my party from scratch, working out a strong masterplan to help resurrect the JD(S) and bring it back to power.”
But the party has failed to perform in the December 2019 and 2020 bypolls in Karnataka. It finished third even in its pocket boroughs.
Kumaraswamy, however, is unfazed by the numbers. “By-elections are different, assembly polls are different,” he said. “When we go to the polls in 2023, we will win back all the seats we lost in the bypolls. There will be fresh, new young faces and a revived, revitalised, rejuvenated JD(S). Wait and see.”