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JD(S) wins even when it doesn’t. And Karnataka BJP & Congress can’t seem to do anything about it

Although it won just 4 seats in the 55-ward Kalburgi Municipal Corporation polls, JD(S) is eyeing the mayor's post. This is in line with the party’s long history of gaining.

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Bengaluru: For days after the announcement of the Kalaburagi Municipal Corporation elections, four newly elected councillors of the Janata Dal (Secular) were lodged in a farm house in Bengaluru, away from their home turf, as the party bargained with Congress and BJP. These were the only four JD(S) councillors who won in the 55-ward municipal polls, but the party is eyeing the mayor’s post. 

The reason why the JD(S) can take such a long shot, and why the Congress and the BJP would be willing to listen, is that it holds the key after the results — the Congress won 27 seats, the BJP bagged an unprecedented 23 seats, but both fell short of 32, the magic number required to elect a mayor for the corporation. All elected members hailing from corporation limits get a vote in electing the mayor.

The BJP can take its tally up to 29 votes with two MLAs, three MLCs and one Lok Sabha MP while the Congress with one Rajya Sabha MP and MLA will end up tied with the BJP. The lone Independent councillor, a former BJP rebel, may not make all the difference but which way the four JD(S) councillors sway will decide who gets control of the corporation.

With both parties eager to take control of the civic body, the JD(S) is protecting its four councillors from being poached, hoping to gain out of the sticky situation.

This isn’t the first time that the JD(S) has found itself in an advantageous position despite finishing last. Every time there is political uncertainty in electoral results at any level in Karnataka, the JD(S) emerges as the biggest gainer.

Also read: Five boxes BJP leaders need to tick to become a chief minister in Modi-Shah era

Junior partner but top post

The first time JD(S) leader H.D. Kumaraswamy took oath as Karnataka’s chief minister on 3 February 2006, his party had won just 58 of the 224 assembly constituencies in the state.

In 2018, when he took oath as CM for the second time, the JD(S) had won even fewer — only 37 seats.

Graphic: Manisha Yadav/ThePrint
Graphic: Manisha Yadav/ThePrint

Ever since its formation in 1999 after the Janata Dal split, the JD(S) under former prime minister and Rajya Sabha MP H.D. Devegowda’s leadership has never won more than 58 seats or crossed a vote share of 20.7 per cent in assembly elections, yet it has been part of three coalition governments in Karnataka, of which it held the CM’s post in two.

First, in the BJP-JD(S) coalition government in 2006 and then in Congress-JD(S) coalition in 2018. Although both the coalition governments collapsed within months, the JD(S) has till date managed to gain the most out of a broken mandate.

For a party that has never contested all 224 seats of Karnataka, the JD(S), most often if not always, manages to get its way. Whether it is to bargain with the BJP to ensure a legislative council chairman post right after the collapse of its coalition with Congress or haggle with both national parties to get a mayor post in the Kalaburagi Municipal Corporation, the JD(S) is a hard bargainer.

“We never go to any party seeking an alliance. They come to us,” JD(S) state president H.K. Kumaraswamy told ThePrint.

Even as his party barters with two national parties over who will head municipal corporation council, Kumaraswamy pointed out that the JD(S) only forms alliances on need-and-issue-basis.

“The BJP and the Congress have all the resources that we don’t and hence a better following and electoral gains. But we make a mark when we are in power,” Kumaraswamy added, on why the party seeks a lion’s share in its coalitions.

Also read: ‘Hold Tharoor in highest regard’ says Telangana Congress chief, day after calling him a donkey

Political relevance or plain luck?

While the Congress and the BJP both diss the JD(S) and insist that its footprint is shrinking, political analysts suggest that there are two reasons why the JD(S) remains relevant and survives despite coming close to political irrelevance.

“First is the caste factor. The JD(S) enjoys the support of Vokkaligas, although slowly diminishing, in the south Karnataka regions. Second, what helps the party in north Karnataka districts is plenty of aspirants who have no opportunities in the two national parties. The JD(S) is quick in identifying such aspirants,” said Narayana A., political analyst and faculty at School of Public policy and Governance, Azim Premji University, Bengaluru.

Narayana added that the inability of the two national parties to consolidate a majority is naturally helping the JD(S).

“Karnataka is going through a political phase where voters are not willing to give full mandate to any party. In the absence of certainty, JD(S) fishes in troubled waters and gains,” he added.

‘To be or not to be’ for BJP, Congress

Speaking to ThePrint, BJP national spokesperson Malavika Avinash said, “A lot of money, effort and resources go into fighting elections. When results are not favourable, political parties try to find solutions. We have no similarity or agreement with the JD(S) on the ideological front.”

She insists that the JD(S) is losing its footing steadily in Karnataka, an argument that political analyst Narayana A. also agrees with, especially after the poll debacle in the Mandya Lok Sabha constituency when H.D. Kumaraswamy’s son and third-generation entrant from the family lost to an Independent candidate, Sumalatha, in 2019.

Even as the BJP rejects the JD(S)’ relevance in Karnataka politics, its leaders are in talks with JD(S) to take control of the Kalburgi corporation.

So is the Congress.

“Our fight is with the BJP. As a regional party, we expect the JD(S) to stand up for secularism and support the Congress in Kalburgi but there is no question of an alliance or pre-poll tie-up with the JD(S),” said Saleem Ahmed, working president, Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee.

For the BJP and the Congress, JD(S) is a hot potato — a necessary spoiler to counter each other.

“JD(S) is an opportunist and doesn’t stand for any ideology and doesn’t mind tilting whichever way the wind blows,” a senior Congress leader from the state told ThePrint on condition of anonymity.

However, JD(S) state president H.K. Kumaraswamy is unperturbed by such allegations. “We will focus on building our party,” he said.

(Edited by Amit Upadhyaya)

Also read: Chautala to propose anti-BJP & anti-Congress front with farmer protests as binding factor


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