HD Deve Gowda and HD Kumaraswamy.
Discontent within the JDS persists due to perceived unilateral decision-making by the Deve Gowda family. | File photo

Prajwal Revanna case: Why JDS is on the brink of collapse, split

Buzz is that disgruntled leaders are prepared to either join the Congress or form an independent group within the Assembly if their demands are not met

The Janata Dal (Secular), Karnataka's sole dominant regional party, has been grappling with a series of challenges over the last couple of years, reaching a critical point after the fallout of the Prajwal Revanna case.

Formed in 1999, JDS has now been in existence for 25 years with JDS supremo HD Deve Gowda and his son HD Kumaraswamy at the helm. The JDS came into being along with the JDU following the split of Janata Dal in 1999. The division stemmed from issues between prominent leaders like former CM Ramakrishna Hegde, former Bihar CM Lalu Prasad Yadav, and former PM HD Deve Gowda, among others. However, now the threat of a split is looming large over the JDS following developments in the aftermath of the Prajwal Revanna case.

It is being said that 13 MLAs are not happy with the leadership of the Deve Gowda clan and want to form a separate group in the state assembly. They are also said to be in touch with the Congress to support it and go against the JDS leadership formally.

Ready to jump ship?

Sources indicate that these disgruntled leaders are prepared to either join the Congress or form an independent group within the assembly if their demands are not met. This development could significantly impact the upcoming Legislative Council elections scheduled for June, potentially preventing the JDS from securing any seats despite its alliance with the BJP.

A Congress functionary in the KPCC told The Federal that while the BJP anticipates the collapse of the Congress government post-elections due to internal divisions, 13 JDS MLAs are currently in touch with the Congress. However, accommodating them poses a challenge given the Congress' existing tally of 135 MLAs.

Congress Minister MB Patil claimed that 15 JDS MLAs are ready to join the Congress party after the Prajwal Revanna case. The recent developments have created tension in the JDS, primarily in the HD Kumaraswamy camp. The assertion gained credence as several JDS MLAs, including Sharana Gowda Kandakur of Gurmitkal and Samruddhi V Manjunath JD (S) of Mulbagal, expressed their displeasure with the party leadership's handling of the situation. Some have also expressed embarrassment that they are still associated with the party.

Engaging with Congress

Addressing the situation, JDS core committee president GT Deve Gowda said, “It is true that some MLAs are unhappy, they demanded swift action against Prajwal. With Prajwal's suspension, their concerns have been addressed and the party unity remains intact.”

However, pleading anonymity, a former JDS minister and sitting MLA disclosed that Congress leaders have engaged with them regarding their desire to join the party. But he also highlighted the legal constraints imposed by the anti-defection law, which necessitates the support of two-third of a party's MLAs to join another party. Despite the readiness of approximately 13 MLAs to defect, the Congress is yet to reach a definitive decision, given its current strength and limited opportunities for additional ministerial positions or Board/Corporation chairmanships.

Another leader emphasised the potential benefits of supporting the government, including increased funding and resources for their constituencies.

Unilateral decision-making

However, discontent within the JDS persists due to perceived unilateral decision-making by the Deve Gowda family, particularly regarding alliance with the BJP despite contesting on secular principles.

"The top leaders are trying to convince us but we are unhappy with the attitude of the Deve Gowda family. They are taking unilateral decisions based on the priorities of their family. We fought assembly elections on secular grounds, but the leaders took their own decisions to support the BJP in the Lok Sabha elections. We have voiced our opposition in the party meetings but to no avail,” he said.

The recent Prajwal Revanna case has further exacerbated tensions within the party, leading to a loss of morale among its activists. Internal rift between HD Revanna and HD Kumaraswamy has created parallel power centres within the party, particularly evident during the last assembly elections and in Hasan politics. There are speculations that familial discord may have played a role in recent controversies, such as the pen drive case.

“Congress, BJP and top JDS leaders are aware of Prajwal's misadventures. Why did our leaders (HD Kumaraswamy) not do anything to prevent the embarrassment? Why did they field Prajwal from Hassan constituency again,” the leader questioned.

Revanna-Congress ties

Interestingly, HD Revanna maintains strong connections with Congress leaders, raising concerns among JDS leadership about potential defections. The party's perceived departure from its secular roots, coupled with its declining influence in the Old Mysuru region has further eroded its support as evident by its limited success in the recent elections. "Information like these, whether they are right or wrong, made us think of parting ways as we don't have much scope in the JDS,” opined Paramesh Gowda, a party leader from Mandya.

“As the JDS has lost its secular tag after supporting the BJP, the party has also lost its base in the old Mysuru region. The BJP is using the opportunity in its favour to expand its base and JDS is treading on a suicidal path. This has been proved in the 2023 assembly elections. The party got mere three seats to contest in Lok Sabha polls while it also ended up upsetting its secular vote bank. Besides, the Prajwal Revanna case will also impact the result,” said the leader.

The prominence of Vokkaliga leadership, particularly DK Shivakumar's ascent within the Congress and his appeal to the Vokkaliga community, directly challenges HD Kumaraswamy's influence in the region. Speculations are rife that Shivakumar's efforts to court Vokkaliga support could further intensify divisions within the JDS, potentially leading to its fragmentation.

In response to recent developments, HD Kumaraswamy has sharpened his attack on DK Shivakumar, signalling a potential escalation in tension between the two parties. “The Prajwal Revanna case prompted HD Kumaraswamy to launch a scathing attack on DK Shivakumar who is now thinking of teaching him a lesson. This may well lead to the division of JDS,” felt political analyst C Rudrappa.

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