Will the 2023 Karnataka assembly polls be a battle of political survival for former Prime Minister H D Deve Gowda-led Janata Dal (Secular), or will the regional party once again emerge as a king maker, like it did in 2018, in the event of a hung assembly?
Political circles were abuzz with this debate before the past couple of elections, and this time is no different.
Plagued by desertions, internal rifts, and with the image of being a “family party”, it remains to be seen how Gowda’s son and former Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy, who is in a way single handedly managing the JD(S)’ affairs with his aging father taking the back seat, would steer the party in the May 10 Assembly polls.
Since its formation in 1999, JD(S) has never formed a government on its own, but had been in power twice in coalition with both national parties- for 20 months with BJP from February 2006 and with Congress for 14 months after the May 2018 assembly polls- with Kumaraswamy as the Chief Minister.
This time the party has set an ambitious target of “mission 123” to form a government on its own by winning at least 123 out of total 224 seats, and has been seeking votes invoking regional Kannadiga pride and fueling a narrative that national parties — the BJP and Congress — fall short of serving interests of the State.
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There are however doubts among some political observers and within a section of the party itself about JD(S) meeting this target; the party’s best ever performance so far has been in the 2004 assembly elections, when it won 58 seats, and 40 seats in 2013 was its second best.
The party’s vote share is stagnant, if not shrinking. It has been ranging between 18-20 per cent, as the party has managed to continue its hold on to a sizeable number of constituencies, predominantly in the Vokkaliga belt of Old Mysuru region.
In the 2018 polls, JD(S) won 37 seats.
Here is a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis of the JD(S).
* Strong Vokkaliga community backing.
* Robust regional party image, coupled with Kannadiga identity pride.
* Goodwill among a section of rural masses with pro-farmer and pro-rural image, after having implemented farm loan waiver when Kumaraswamy was CM last time.
* Deftness in giving an alternative government in coalition with any one of the two national parties- Congress and BJP- in case of a hung assembly.
* “Family controlled party” image and accusations of pursuing “dynastic politics’ ‘, with eight members of Gowda’s immediate family into active politics.
* Inability to grow beyond the Vokkaliga dominated old Mysuru region, and certain select pockets of north Karnataka.
Inability to come to power on one’s own strength.
Lack of winnable candidates in many constituencies.
Party patriarch Deve Gowda missing from active campaigning due to advanced age and ill health.
Too much dependence on Kumaraswamy, and lack of strong second-rung leadership to shoulder the responsibility or win votes.
Prospects of coming to power and even occupying the Chief Minister’s post in case of a hung verdict, as it has happened twice in the past.
Using the knack of power politics, by holding the key to government formation, in the event of a hung verdict.
Series of desertions since 2018.
Congress is perceived to be in a better position now among the Vokkaligas, one of the factors being its state unit head by D K Shivakumar being a Vokkaliga.
*BJP’s determined efforts to make inroads into the Vokkaliga dominated Old Mysuru region.
Some political analysts note that the JD(S) is still a force to reckon with and it’s too early to write off the party which may again hold the key to power in case the Congress and the BJP fail to get a majority on their own.
In that scenario, the question on everybody’s mind is: Will the JD(S) be a king maker or the king (with Kumaraswamy CM).