The Janata Dal (Secular) is in the midst of fighting the battle of its life.
The last time it was part of a government in Bengaluru was over a decade back. Another spell out of power, fears its leader and former prime minister HD Deve Gowda, could hurt his party’s chances of survival grievously.
“We are a small regional party. Elections require big money. Unlike our two principal rivals, we do not have deep pockets. We are scraping the bottom,” Deve Gowda told this reporter recently.
The Gowda clan is extremely wealthy, as evident from the affidavits filed during elections and its ownership of several businesses. But another few years out of power could be disastrous for the morale of the party.
A convincing win for either of JD (S)’s two chief rivals, the Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), in the Karnataka assembly polls, could inevitably lead to a life-threatening split in the JD (S), with several of its leaders joining either of the two national parties.
This is where the JD (S) leadership is pushing its heart and sinew to emerge the kingmaker in the Karnataka assembly elections, scheduled for May 12, and is busy adding to the current conventional wisdom that the people of Karnataka will throw up a hung assembly.
Since February, the JD (S) has done its bit to punch above its weight. On February 8, it announced an alliance with the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), which would be fighting 20 of the 224-assembly seats.
On Monday, the JD (S) received a shot in the arm with All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) chief Asaduddin Owaisi stating that his party will support Deve Gowda-led party.
The AIMIM has influence in the Hyderabad Karnataka region. Owaisi said AIMIM will not field any candidates, and he would campaign for former chief minister HD Kumaraswamy. Owaisi’s support could blunt Congress campaign among minorities that the JD (S) was a ‘B’ team of the BJP's.
The Telangana Rashtra Samiti leader and Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao during his visit to Bengaluru last week, while seeking the JD (S)'s support on his proposal to forge a federal front, also announced his party's support to the JD(S).
Until now, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu has given a call to Karnataka voters, including its significant Telugu population, to vote for whichever party that can defeat the BJP.
Last week, Deve Gowda also reached out to Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Sitarama Yechury, but the response of that party would only be decided after its conclave in Hyderabad this week. It is, however, unlikely that the CPI (M) would announce open support for the Congress.
According to its internal survey, the BJP and Congress would finish nearly neck and neck. The JD (S) believes the BJP could win 70 to 80-seats, while the Congress 80 to 90-seats, and the JD (S) ending with 40-odd seats. In 2013 assembly polls, the JD (S) had won 40-seats with nearly 20 per cent vote share.
The big question, however, remains if the JD (S) will form the government with the BJP if Karnataka has a hung assembly?
The JD (S) leadership doesn't tell you they would cross the bridge when they come to it and are keen stress that they would like to align with the Congress. A leader said Deve Gowda would not like to go with the BJP but is upset with the Congress “arrogance”, and Congress chief Rahul Gandhi’s “personal attack on his family”.
Deve Gowda believes his party suffered when his son Kumaraswamy aligned with the BJP in 2006-07, and wouldn’t like to commit that mistake again. "But Rahul Gandhi's attacks are weakening Deve Gowda's resolve to dissuade Kumaraswamy from aligning with the BJP," a JD (S) source said.
What is non-negotiable for the Gowda clan is a Congress and JD (S) government with Siddaramaiah in the mix of things. The JD (S) would also want Kumaraswamy to head the Congress-JD(S) coalition government.
The JD (S) is hoping Congress president Rahul Gandhi will be more “measured” in his criticism of the Gowda clan in the weeks to come.
“Rahul Gandhi is now the Congress president. He has a major responsibility to take the opposition together. He shouldn’t fall in the trap of local Congress leaders, who have their own personal agendas,” Ali, who is close to Deve Gowda, told Business Standard.
The JD (S) leadership takes the pain to stress that the party has attended all the recent opposition unity meetings called by UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, and is committed to defeating Narendra Modi-led BJP in 2019.
“We have been part and parcel of opposition unity efforts. It is my sincere wish and advise as party secretary-general that the Congress president will not damage it by giving ear to some state Congress leaders,” Ali said.
But JD (S) is known to take a surprising turn, or two, in the past.