JD(S) tightens its hold

Vokkaliga voters once again keep the JD(S) afloat by rejecting Congress candidates in its bastion.

Published : May 23, 2018 12:30 IST

Public Works Minister H.C. Mahadevappa lost to the JD(S) in T. Narasipura.

Public Works Minister H.C. Mahadevappa lost to the JD(S) in T. Narasipura.

IT might sound like a classic oxymoron. But that is what it is. For the Janata Dal (Secular) being tagged as a Vokkaliga party is both weakness and strength. Vokkaligas, one of Karnataka’s most economically and politically powerful communities, account for around 13 per cent of the State’s population. They are concentrated in the districts of Hassan, Mandya, Tumakuru, Ramanagaram, Bengaluru (Rural), and parts of Mysuru, Kolar, Chamarajanagar and Chikkaballapur.

The JD(S) has not been able to shrug off the tag of being a caste-based sub-regional party that can be a king maker or a spoiler. But it is Vokkaliga voters who have kept the party politically afloat. In the recent elections to the State Assembly, Vokkaligas went a step further, consolidating their might behind the JD(S), much to the detriment of the Congress, which hitherto was also a beneficiary of Vokkaliga votes. In the Old Mysuru region, the JD(S) got nearly 41 per cent of the votes polled and bagged almost 50 per cent of the seats. In the compact cluster of Hassan, Mandya, Ramanagaram, Bengaluru (Rural), Mysuru and Chamarajanagar districts, it won 24 (up from 16 in the 2013 elections) seats. The Congress, which won 19 seats in 2013, managed to retain just eight. The JD(S) played spoiler even in Bengaluru and central Karnataka regions.

The JD(S) won 37 seats: all the seven seats in Mandya district, six of the seven seats in Hassan district, four of 11 in Tumakuru district, four of 11 in Mysuru district, one of six in Kolar district, two of four in Bengaluru Rural district and three of four in Ramanagaram district. The JD(S) won eight seats outside the Vokkalaliga bastion but with considerably lower victory margins. Its vote share, however, declined marginally from 20.19 per cent in 2013 to 18.4 per cent.

The Chamundeshwari seat in Mysuru district, considered a Congress citadel, unarguably demonstrated the ability of the Vokkaliga vote bank to change the fortunes of candidates. With Congress Chief Minister Siddaramaiah deciding to contest from Chamundeshwari, the spotlight was naturally on that seat. Although Siddaramaiah was elected from Chamundeshwari five of the seven times he contested from there, intelligence agencies had indicated that he would find the going tough this time. Vokkaligas, who constitute around 1.31 lakh of the 2.2-odd lakh voters in the constituency, threw their weight behind G.T. Deve Gowda, a Vokkaliga and a one-time confidant of Siddaramaiah. Deve Gowda secured 121,325 votes and defeated the Chief Minister with a margin of 36,000 votes. The result reflected the rejection of Siddaramaiah by Vokkaligas.

Interestingly, even in seats where the Congress fielded Vokkaliga candidates, it was the JD(S) that got the community’s backing. Three sitting legislators of the JD(S)—N. Cheluvarayaswamy (Nagamangala), H.C. Balakrishna (Magadi) and Ramesh Bandisidde Gowda (Srirangapatna), all Vokkaligas—who shifted their loyalty to the Congress three months before the elections were rejected. So the Vokkaliga anger cost both Siddaramaiah and the Congress dearly. Another stunning defeat was that of Public Works Minister H.C. Mahadevappa, a Dalit and close confidant of Siddaramaiah. He lost to Ashvin Kumar of the JD(S) in T. Narasipura.

According to political analysts, Vokkaligas viewed Siddaramaiah and the Congress as their enemy No 1. The feeling that the Congress under Siddaramaiah wanted to finish off the Vokkaliga community seemed to permeate the community.

Chandan Gowda, professor of social science, Azim Premji University, Bengaluru, said there seemed to be a greater sense of caste and community among Vokkaliagas during the recent elections. And this translated into votes for the JD(S). He said: “Thanks to the Congress dubbing them as the “B team” of the BJP, they lost much of the Muslim vote but still managed to win 37 seats in all. This is equivalent to winning 52-55 seats.”

Siddaramaiah’s constant verbal duel with H.D. Deve Gowda, the 86-year-old patriarch of the JD(S) and the messiah of Vokkaligas, alienated him from Vokkaliga voters. Matters became worse when Deve Gowda insinuated, through front-page advertisements, that he had been ridiculed and his portrait removed from government offices at the behest of Siddaramaiah.

Above all else, during the entire tenure of the Siddaramaiah dispensation, Vokkaligas felt that the Chief Minister was more keen on looking after the interests of his own Kuruba community than on taking forward his Ahinda (an acronym for Dalits, backward classes and minorities) social engineering experiment, and that too at the expense of Vokkaligas. This sentiment was heightened by the fact that only Kuruba officers got key posts under Siddaramaiah.

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