Politics is more than simple arithmetic. As campaigning ends in parts of Karnataka, which goes to polls on April 18, the transfer of votes between allies the Janata Dal (Secular) and Congress holds the key to winning the Lok Sabha elections.
After having fought the state elections against each other last year, working together was difficult for the party cadres at the block level. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) hopes to cash in on this, particularly in the old Mysore region where the Congress ceded its seats to JD(S).
While Congress leaders initially hoped to fight back and sort out the differences, it hasn’t gone well as expected. In the previous Lok Sabha elections, the Congress had 40% vote share, JD(S) about 11%, and the BJP garnered 43% votes. And in the 2018 Assembly elections, the Congress had 38% vote share, JD(S) secured 18.4% and BJP roughly had about 36%. While the JD(S) and Congress count on the combined votes, it isn’t necessary that it may go well for them.
Congress and JD(S) leaders have been pleading with their cadres to work for the alliance partners or face stern action. While the high command agreed to work together to fight the communal BJP, the rivalry between the parties at the grassroots level was deep, and that stopped the workers from supporting each other. Also, the parties had to deal with regional factionalism after a few local leaders disagreed with the candidatures.
The disagreement was evident in at least six Lok Sabha seats — Mandya, Hassan, Kolar, Chikkaballapur, Tumakuru, Uttara Kannada and Bangalore North, where the parties contest jointly.
In Mandya, where the Chief Minister’s son Nikhil Kumaraswamy will battle actor Sumalatha Ambareesh, many Congress workers campaigned for the opposition candidate with the party flags. While they eventually stopped flaunting it, some continued to work for the independent candidate, Sumalatha.
Ahead of the joint rally by Congress president Rahul Gandhi in Mandya last week, the party suspended seven block presidents, even as Congress leaders like Siddaramaiah, DK Shivakumar and G Parameshwara made repeated requests for them to work for the JD(S) candidate.
Mandya, in particular, witnesses a fierce battle where the BJP wants to do away with the dynasty politics of JD(S) and weaken the party so that it could start “Operation Kamala” — efforts to poach MLAs from opposition parties in order to grab power in the state.
“We tried to mend differences in many places. However, despite all efforts, some worked against party orders, and that was out of our control. We believe the Congress party will take action against them. We are hopeful that our candidates will benefit and win with a huge margin,” a JD(S) spokesperson said. “Defeating BJP is our goal, and for that, we have come together.”
In Tumakuru, where former prime minister HD Deve Gowda contest against BJP’s GS Basavaraju, sitting MP Muddahanumegowda protested and defied party orders by filing nomination papers. He later withdrew after party leaders convinced him it was a bad move. His supporters did not work for Deve Gowda until last week.
Similarly, in Chikkaballapur, where Congress veteran Verappa Moily contests against BJP’s B N Bachegowda, the local JD(S) workers did not support him. Only Congress flags were present in his rallies. In Hassan, the Congress candidate turned a rebel and now contests under a BJP ticket.
Fearing a fall out, both the parties held three joint rallies to boost the morale of the party workers. “We certainly want to cash in on the cross votes. In my constituency, I expect about 15% of the JD(S) votes to come in my favour. Nobody raised voice against the JD(S) family until now. But now the situation is different. Many Congress workers who admire me for my work, support me,” BJP’s Hassan candidate A Manju told The Federal.
Meanwhile, Congress minister DK Shivakumar surprised people by apologising on behalf of the party for dividing the lingayat community. Last year, ahead of the Assembly elections, the Congress government accepted the recommendations of an official expert committee to grant religious minority status to lingayats. However, this move irked Home Minister MB Patil, who fought in favour of the reservation. Patil and Shivakumar’s spat was infamous.
Analysts claim this could work against the party in Tumakuru and surrounding areas, which have a considerable lingayat population. Political analyst Harish Ramaswamy says the Congress is the loser in the long run and that the differences will continue to haunt the party even after the Lok Sabha elections.
“At the block level, the differences are personal and individualistic and people cannot and will not come together. The real worry is the Congress party’s decline as a whole and at a constituency level in the state,” Ramaswamy said. “For the JD(S), any extra seat is a boom unlike for the Congress, which is set to lose in the constituencies where it ruled and ceded seats to JD(S). But the question is, will the BJP gain? In some places like Kolar and Mandya, yes.”