Karnataka verdict: JD(S) Back with a Bangalore

When he was chief minister of Karnataka in 1994, a statistic provided by the then police chief had caught H D Devegowda’s attention: less than 0.1 per cent of constables in the state’s police force were Muslims. “Are they not people of this country, I wondered,” Devegowda, 85, said recently on television while talking about how he was the first in the country to accord four per cent reservation in government jobs to Muslims.The quota saw a large number of Muslims entering government services — their representation in the police department, for instance, stood at 7 per cent till a couple of years ago — and ensured that the community, which makes up nearly 10 per cent of the state’s population, considered the JD(S) as an alternative to the Congress.Often criticised and laughed away for practising a family-centric brand of politics, it’s this old-school socialism that has been the JD(S)’s strength even as it wallowed in near-obscurity after the high of 1994, when the party won 115 seats and Devegowda became chief minister. The best performance since then has been the 58 seats the party won in 2004 and Kumaraswamy became chief minister for the first time. But now, a hung verdict in the May 12 Assembly elections in Karnataka has given the JD(S) an unexpected chance to arrest a gradual spiral into irrelevance and an opportunity to rebuild for itself a pan-Karnataka base instead of being restricted largely to southern Karnataka and the Vokkaliga community, which has considered Devegowda its patriarch for several decades now.
In a quirk of fate, despite winning only 38 seats in the 224-member Karnataka Assembly, Kumaraswamy, 58, Gowda’s third son, became chief minister of Karnataka after the Congress offered its 78 MLAs in an act of unconditional support to keep the BJP, the single largest party with 104 seats, out of power.
“One of our main aims in tying up with the Congress is to build the image of the JD(S) again in the state. We have been out of power for 12 years and we want to increase our base again by providing a stable, secure government. The Muslims have all drifted away from us and we need to re-emerge as an alternative to the Congress,” says a JD(S) leader.
It’s an admission of the failed alliance between the BJP and JD(S) in 2006, after Kumaraswamy walked out of the Congress-JD(S) coalition government, much against the wishes of his more secular-minded father. That alliance with the BJP also meant that one of the JD(S)’s strongest votebanks, the minorities, grew suspicious of it and stuck with the Congress.In the 2008 election, its voteshare fell to 19 per cent from the 21 per cent of 2004, when the party won its all-time high of 58 seats since emerging as a separate party from the kernel of the Janata Dal that ruled the state in 1994. While the party has retained a base of around 19 per cent votes in the Vokkaliga-populated south Karnataka districts of Mandya, Hassan, Ramanagaram, Kolar and rural Bengaluru, it has lost ground in the north.