JD(S), a willing Trojan horse for BJP in Karnataka

JD(S)'s support for State's land reforms indicates its willingness to seek safe shelter by the BJP's side

Kumaraswamy
Kumaraswamy may also back Yediyurappa, so that he can join hands with the Lingayat strongman if his party's high command ousts him | File photo: PTI

The Janata Dal (Secular)’s changing stance over Karnataka’s recent land reforms legislation to help it cross the crucial Legislative Council barrier indicates the HD Kumaraswamy-led party could unwittingly become a carrier for the ruling BJP in the state.

The BJP-led government’s controversial Land Reforms (Amendment) Act, which was cleared by the Assembly in September, met a roadblock in the Council where the saffron party does not have a majority.

The JD(S), though initially critical of the bill, supported it after certain changes. The sudden change in its stance brought the party under criticism for being opposed to the interest of protesting farmers. Even the JD(S) workers who were protesting against the bill on December 8 morning, turned in its favour by evening.

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The move gave an impression that the JD(S) was aligning with the BJP and dancing to its tunes in exchange for power.

Related news | Karnataka’s BJP govt gets JD(S) support to pass contentious land reforms

Kumaraswamy, former chief minister of the state, tried to justify the changed stance of the party, saying it was the JD(S) that had helped in bringing real reformative measures with respect to the Land Reforms Act, but the party was being blamed unnecessarily without scrutiny.

“No one came to my support when I stepped out of power after implementing the promise made to farmers. Now also I am alone when I am able to achieve reforms in the legislation,” the JD(S) leader said, trying to downplay the anti-farmers narrative against his party.

Speculations are rife that the JD(S)’s support came in exchange for the promise of the Council’s chairman post once the present Congress chairperson is ousted. The BJP and JD(S) had planned to move a no-confidence motion against the chairman in the ongoing session, which was thwarted by him citing legal hurdles.

The Congress and the protesting farmers have called for boycotting the JD(S) and trained their guns to attack the Gowda clan who call themselves sons of the soil, for betraying the farmers and supporting the controversial law.

“The farmers are suffering due to multiple legislations at the state and central level, and are protesting across the country. At a time when we expected the farmer centric party to stand up and hold the government accountable, they unfortunately betrayed,” said farmer leader Kodihalli Chandrakshekar.

Related news | BJP sweeps Karnataka bypolls; top Congress leaders quit

The criticism was followed by another surprising move by the JD(S) within 48 hours as the party took a pro-farmers stance by opposing the Karnataka Prevention of Slaughter and Preservation of Cattle Bill (2020) in the Council, a date after it was cleared in the Assembly.

Blaming the BJP for introducing the bill in a tearing hurry, Kumarswamy said even though it appears to be an attempt to protect cattle, in the long run it will have an opposite effect. He even said the BJP, which talked of “ease of doing business” by removing license raj for big industrialists, was actually enforcing such ‘license raj’ on poor farmers.

According to political analyst Muzzafar Assadi, the JD(S) seems to have succumbed to the land lobby and supported the farm bill in the interest of farmers and politicians owning large chunks of land around Bengaluru and those who wish to exit farming and sell it to builders. But he said, being a farmers’ party, going against their ideology was a jolt to the JD(S).

“It’s an aberration that the party made on the farm bill. But they realised that extending support to the anti-cow slaughter bill might weaken the rural economy and disturb its social bases with the farmers feeling antagonised,” he said. “They must have also realised that the vote base may tilt towards Congress’s DK Shivakumar and hence, did the course correction with the anti-cow slaughter bill.”

The JD(S)’s flip flop is, however, nothing new in Karnataka politics. In a case of a fractured mandate, the party always remained opportunistic and played into the hands of those wanting to grab power. It projected itself as an alternative to BJP and Congress and stayed afloat with the backing of dominant Vokkaliga caste votes and farmers’ support in the southern belt. In fact, the party, in a way, helped BJP make inroads in the state.

Back in 2004, when there was a fractured mandate in Karnataka, JD(S) first aligned with the Congress and later shifted support to the BJP to form government, replacing the Congress-led coalition.

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Kumaraswamy aligned with the BJP by going against the wishes of his father and JD(S) patriarch, former prime minister HD Deve Gowda, who appeared to have shed tears over his son’s decision. Sceptics pointed out it was all within the family greed of power.

At a time when Kumaraswamy was supposed to hand over power to the BJP as per their agreement, he flipped yet again and denied saffron party leader BS Yediyurappa chief ministership. This triggered Lingayat consolidation behind the BJP. Subsequently, the state went to polls and BJP came to power. And thus, the JD(S)’s betrayal led to the emergence of the BJP in the South.

The 2018 polls again delivered a hung assembly and the leading parties were at the mercy of JD(S) once again.

The Congress and JD(S), arch rivals especially in Mysuru region, joined hands to form a coalition government, but it constantly bickered and performed abysmally in the Lok Sabha polls. They won just one seat each out of the total 28. Kumaraswamy’s son Nikhil lost while his nephew Prajwal Revanna retained his grandfather’s legacy in Hassan seat. That was the only seat JD(S) won.

While the JD(S)-Congress coalition did not work as planned even when Kumaraswamy held the top post, the BJP came to power by engineering the defection of several ruling coalition MLAs to their side. With the fall of the coalition government, JD(S) entered into a bitter rivalry with the Congress.

Now, once again, Kumaraswamy appears to be cosying up to those in power for political gains. The party has been siding up with the ruling BJP over the past year, making unpredictable moves to keep the Congress at bay.

After strengthening its base in the Bengaluru region, coastal Karnataka and northern part of the state, BJP has made it clear that its next target would be the Vokkaliga dominant southern region where the Congress and JD(S) are rivals. And this was evident when BJP wrested power in the KR Pete assembly constituency bypoll, snatching power from the JD(S). It pushed back the JD(S) and Congress in their home turf. Similarly, in Sira, the party worked against the Congress and came a distant third. Votes, however, were transferred from JD(S) to BJP.

Related news | Factionalism in Karnataka Congress over choice of state leader

Political analysts feel the party’s pro-BJP stance is to ensure the family remains in political sight, who otherwise seem to have lost ground. If it joins hands with the BJP, it may save some skin. Several JD(S) leaders and workers have already jumped ship, and with BJP breaking into its heartland, the party has much to lose. A diminished JD(S) will end the three party system in the state and lead to a two-party system with BJP and Congress fighting each other.

Kumaraswamy may also back Yediyurappa, so that he can join hands with the Lingayat strongman if his party’s high command ousts him.

“There appears to be a lack of consistency and that’s nothing unusual for the JD(S). They have done it in the Bengaluru municipal polls and the assembly bypolls – supporting different parties at different times. It’s totally justifiable considering the local factors at play,” said psephologist Sandeep Shastri.

Given that the JD(S) enjoys massive support from the farmers’ community, particularly in the regions that have a strong farming lobby, it was interesting that they supported the land reforms bill, which was seen as a decision against the farmers.

“I feel it would be more a trade-off for something more from the BJP, and we may have to wait to see how it plays out for the JD(S),” Shastri said.

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