The Janata Dal Secular of former Prime Minister H D Deve Gowda has entered into an alliance with the Bahujan Samaj Party led by former UP Chief Minister Mayawati for the Karnataka Assembly elections this year.
This was announced by BSP general secretary Satish Chandra Mishra and JDS secretary Danish Ali at a media conference in New Delhi on Thursday.
Mishra said the BSP will contest 20 seats — 12 from the general category and eight from the reserved quota — while supporting the JDS in the other 204 seats in the state. Deve Gowda, Mayawati and JDS state president H D Kumaraswamy will campaign together, Ali said. The stated target, they said, is to form a government under the leadership of Kumaraswamy.
Deve Gowda and Mayawati will launch a common campaign for the Assembly polls with a rally at Bengaluru on February 17, they added. The alliance will continue well after the Assembly polls, the leaders said, and the two parties will contest the 2019 Lok Sabha elections together.
The move by the JDS — a regional force in Karnataka that has lost ground in recent years — to ally with the BSP, which lost its deposit in 174 of 175 seats it contested in 2013, is being seen as a strategy to prevent Congress efforts to consolidate the 23 per cent Dalit votes in Karnataka in its favour.
Ali denied that the alliance was an effort to erode the support base of the Congress and called it an effort to consolidate JDS’s efforts to win maximum seats in the polls as a key regional party pitted against the two national parties — Congress and BJP.
While the ruling Congress and the BJP have been in the limelight in the pre-election build-up, the JDS — which finished second to the Congress in 2013 — has been quietly working at a strategy of building on its strengths.
The JDS is known to be strong in the southern Karnataka region inhabited by the Vokkaliga community, which forms its core base. The party is believed to have devised a strategy aimed at ousting the Congress government led by its former leader Siddaramaiah while emerging in a position to be a part of a coalition government.
Kumaraswamy has been travelling around the state and focusing on farm distress. During a recent private discussion with the British high commissioner to India, details of which were shared with the media by the party, Kumaraswamy stated that farmers were unhappy with policies of the Congress government in the state and the BJP at the Centre, which would help the JDS. “I will be the king, not the kingmaker,” Kumaraswamy told the British delegation.
The JDS won 40 of the 224 seats in the Assembly in 2013 and garnered 20.15 per cent vote share, while the BJP won 40 seats and 19.89 per cent votes. The party has, however, lost ground in the last five years, with as many as seven JDS MLAs switching to the Congress.
One of the biggest losses for the JDS has been its support among Muslims, who saw the party as an alternative to the Congress. Top Muslim leaders from the JDS such as Zameer Ahmed Khan, Iqbal Ansari, and even leaders from the Vokkaliga community, like N Cheluvarayaswamy and M Balakrishna, have joined the Congress. As a consequence of the loss of its base in the Muslim community, JDS MLAs — Manappa Vajal and Shivaraj Patil — from north Karnataka joined the BJP in January.
Despite Kumaraswamy’s claims, the JDS is seen as having its best shot at power in an alliance. With Deve Gowda stating that the JDS will not tie up with the Congress, there was widespread talk of the JDS allying with the BJP so that the strengths of the two parties in south and north Karnataka are leveraged. A meeting between Deve Gowda and Union Minister Piyush Goyal in December 2017, and JDS’s recent soft-pedalling on the BJP added to speculation.
Both the BJP and JDS have denied any pre-poll truck. “The BJP has had a bad experience with the JDS in the past,’’ a BJP source said. — inputs from ENS, Delhi