Janata Dal (Secular)

Battle of a patriarch

Print edition : May 02, 2014

H.D. Deve Gowda. Photo: K. MURALI_KUMAR

YOU can write him off politically but only at your own peril. Janata Dal (Secular) supremo H.D. Deve Gowda has risen from the ashes on more than occasion one. But come April 17, the octogenarian former Prime Minister, the only leader from the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) to have donned that mantle, will be fighting the biggest electoral battle in his six-decade-long political career, both to rekindle his national ambitions (he hopes to play a crucial role in the government formation at the Centre) and to revive the fortunes of the party he founded in 1999.

Regarded as the party of choice of Vokkaligas, who along with Lingayats form the two most politically, numerically and economically influential communities in Karnataka, the Janata Dal (Secular) under Deve Gowda has held sway in the Old Mysore region of the State. The fortunes of the party are intricately entwined with that of Deve Gowda himself, who is the tallest Vokkaliga leader. The Janata Dal (Secular) has not been able to make inroads into northern Karnataka, the Lingayat stronghold, as it does not have a leader of stature from among Lingayats. Another misfortune of the party is that it has not been able to shake off its “rural party” tag. However, Deve Gowda’s social engineering skills, exhibited best in mobilising the minorities and the OBCs, have brought moderate dividends to the party. The party won on an average just under 20 per cent of the vote in the last three Assembly elections and below 15 per cent in the last three Lok Sabha elections. But its vote-to-seat conversion, especially in parliamentary elections, given the absence of meaningful support in urban, coastal and northern Karnataka, is poor. It managed to win just two seats in 2004 and three in 2009.

It is unlikely to do any better in the April 17 elections to the 28 Lok Sabha seats in the State. Being out of government for almost seven years has meant a paucity of influence and, more importantly, funds. The party is only contesting 24 seats. In Koppal, its candidate withdrew from the contest, citing lack of funds to fight the elections as the reason. In Uttara Kannada and Dakshina Kannada constituencies, the party could not find suitable candidates. In Belgaum, its candidate has quit the party. The selection of candidates has reportedly been tardy and whimsical, with many candidates complaining that they were cleared only in the last minute. Quite a few party candidates were critical of Deve Gowda for not releasing sufficient funds to fight the elections.

While Deve Gowda, who is known to shed tears in public when needed, will ensure for himself a victory in Hassan, his son H.D. Kumaraswamy, equally teary at times, will find it difficult to defeat Union Petroleum Minister M. Veerappa Moily or the Bharatiya Janata Party’s B.N. Bache Gowda in Chikkaballapur. Party insiders confessed that they could think of winning only a handful of seats—Mandya, Tumkur, Shimoga and Chitradurga—besides Hassan. Geeta Shivarajkumar, daughter of former Chief Minister S. Bangarappa and daughter-in-law of actor Rajkumar, is contesting in Shimoga.

In recent years, the Janata Dal (Secular), whose genesis goes back to the anti-Congress/anti-Indira Gandhi “Janata” movement led by Jayaprakash Narayan in the 1970s, has lost many of its founder leaders and much of its ideology and political vision. Although it is the only meaningful and recognised alternative to the ruling Congress and the nationalist BJP in Karnataka, the Janata Dal (Secular) has been christened by political pundits as the “Deve Gowda and sons’ party”, thanks to the domineering roles played by Kumaraswamy and H.D. Revanna, another son of Deve Gowda. According to a senior party leader, who requested anonymity, the party was not what it used to be, with the majority of its members having had nothing to do with the Janata movement. Moreover, the party is no longer in the hands of Deve Gowda. Kumaraswamy, who has on numerous occasions told this correspondent that ideology means less and winning means more, is reported to have taken over the reins of the party.

The Janata Dal (Secular) is an offshoot of the erstwhile undivided Janata Dal, which was founded in 1988 with the merger of the Janata Party and a few smaller opposition parties. The Janata Dal reached its pinnacle in 1996 when Deve Gowda headed the United Front coalition government at the Centre for 10 months. In July 1999, it split when George Fernandes, Sharad Yadav, and the late J.H. Patel decided to support the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government. While one faction of the Janata Dal along with the Lok Shakti and the Samata Party merged and became the Janata Dal (United), the other, led by Deve Gowda, Siddaramaiah and P.G.R. Sindhia, became the Janata Dal (Secular). Although Deve Gowda has continuously hobnobbed with various non-BJP, non-Congress leaders, most notably those from the Left, and was elected to the Lok Sabha in the 1998, 2004 and 2009 general elections and in the 2002 byelection to the Kanakapura seat, he has not been able to fulfil his ambition of playing a major role in national politics. This is mainly because the party has not been able to win enough seats to be an influential force at the Centre.

The Janata Dal (Secular) came to power in the State twice, first as a junior partner in a coalition with the Congress in 2004 and then in February 2006 when Kumaraswamy decided to align with the BJP in a desperate attempt to keep restless party legislators from defecting to the Congress. The cohabitation with the BJP rocked the party’s secular credentials.

Deve Gowda’s political fortunes have been going downhill ever since his surprising elevation as Prime Minister. Although Deve Gowda disagreed with Kumaraswamy’s decision to join hands with the “communal BJP”, not wanting to upset his relations with secular forces, most notably the Left parties, he soon reconciled to the arrangement and refrained from taking any meaningful action against either Kumaraswamy or the 42 party legislators who teamed up with the BJP. Deve Gowda’s defence was that if the legislators had gone to the Election Commission, the recognition given to the Janata Dal (Secular) as a “registered State party” would have been cancelled, and instead the grouping formed by the legislators would have been recognised as a regional party. Kumaraswamy was Chief Minister for 20 months as agreed upon during government formation with the BJP, but he reneged on the promise to allow the BJP its turn in office. This resulted in the dissolution of the State Assembly in November 2007. In the May 2008 Assembly elections, the Janata Dal (Secular) faced the wrath of voters. It managed to win just 28 seats in the 224-member Assembly and 18.96 per cent of the votes. However, the party fared better in the May 2013 elections, winning 40 seats and 20.09 per cent of the votes.

Kumaraswamy’s growing importance in the party was not acceptable to many senior leaders. Senior party leader Siddaramaiah, who had been with Deve Gowda all along, quit the party in 2006 to form the apolitical AHINDA (federation of minorities, backward classes and Dalits) platform. In July 2006, he joined the Congress.

Over the years, a number of Janata Dal (Secular) leaders, including M.B. Ambarish, R.V. Deshpande, C.M. Ibrahim, H.C. Mahadevappa, H.S. Mahadeva Prasad, the late M.P. Prakash, Srinivas Prasad, B.L. Shankar, Satish Jharkiholi, S. Ramesh Kumar, Krishna Byre Gowda and Roshan Baig, have left the party primarily over differences with Deve Gowda and accusing him of “not letting them grow politically”. In the run-up to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Deve Gowda, along with the Left parties, attempted to stitch together a “federal front’ of non-Congress, non-BJP parties. Though it came unstuck even before it could be formalised, Deve Gowda has not given up on the idea.

Speaking to Frontline, he said that neither the BJP nor the Congress would be able to form the next government on its own and that was why they were desperately searching for allies.

He said: “Regional parties will get more seats than the Congress. But will the Congress lend support to them to form a government? After the elections it will be known who is for and against communalism. In Karnataka, the Congress is trying to destroy the Janata Dal (Secular). Siddaramaiah wants to start a new AHINDA movement and split all the castes for his survival as Chief Minister.” Accusing the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, of practising crony capitalism, Deve Gowda wondered why corporate houses were backing him.

In its electoral campaigns, the Janata Dal (Secular) has been highlighting the misgovernance and corruption in the Congress-led government at the Centre and the communal agenda, fascism and intolerance of Modi and the BJP. The party’s leaders are appealing to the electorate to give a Kannadiga—read Deve Gowda—the vote to make him a strong player at the Centre and champion Karnataka’s interests.

Deve Gowda said: “Corruption is not confined to the Congress or the BJP but to the entire House [Parliament]. Karnataka must give me the strength. I have no resources, no money power, but I have respect and my record as Prime Minister speaks for itself.” A thought echoed by C.S. Puttaraju, the party’s Mandya candidate, who said: “Only a regional player can look after the State’s needs best.”

Ravi Sharma

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