The Vokkaligas are one of the two dominant communities in Karnataka, the other being the Lingayats | PTI file photo

Karnataka: Vokkaliga factor hindrance in BJP-JD(S) tie-up for Lok Sabha battle

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The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), keen to align with the Janata Dal (Secular) in Karnataka to protect its seat tally in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls, appears to be in a dilemma now. The BJP swept 25 of the 28 Lok Sabha seats in the state in 2019, helping it cross the 300-seat mark nationally.

The BJP needs the support of the JD(S) to divide the Vokkaliga vote bank. The BJP earlier drew a blueprint of aligning with the JD(S) following the advice of some senior leaders. But it seems to be in two minds. This is being attributed to politics over Vokkaligas, one of the dominant communities in Karnataka, the other being the Lingayats.

With speculation mounting over a JD(S)-BJP alliance after the May Assembly elections stunned both of them, Vokkaliga camps in both parties sprang into action. They tried to convince their leaders of the pros and cons of an electoral understanding.

According to JD(S) sources, many senior leaders and legislators oppose a pact with the BJP. “Most MLAs expressed reservation over any electoral arrangement in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls,” said a JD(S) functionary.

Also read: Karnataka | JD(S) has decided to work with BJP as Opposition: Kumaraswamy

Doubts in JD(S)

JD(S) leader and former chief minister HD Kumaraswamy’s decision to align with the BJP in any form did not augur well with the rank and file. Most MLAs want to fight the Lok Sabha battle on the party’s own strength. They are learnt to have impressed upon Kumaraswamy the need to protect the party’s regional and secular identity. Any deviation would impact on the party’s prospects in the next local body polls.

A senior JD(S) legislator, who spoke to The Federal on the condition of anonymity, admitted that the JD(S) is seeing a steady decline in its strength. This prompts the need for a strategic alliance until the party gains influence and can stand independently.

“But under no circumstances should the JD(S) ally with the BJP. The BJP always piggy rides on regional parties and then swallows them up. We don’t want to fall prey to it,” he said.

In the recent Assembly elections, the Vokkaliga heartland of South Karnataka signalled that it was moving away from the JD(S). The dominant and numerically strong Vokkaliga community stood by the JD(S), looking at former prime minister HD Deve Gowda as its saviour. With the community’s support, Kumaraswamy became the chief minister twice, by striking an alliance with the BJP once and the Congress on another occasion.

Also read: 10 BJP MLAs suspended from Karnataka assembly for indecent, disrespectful conduct

The JD(S), which won 25 of the 46 Vokkaliga-dominated Assembly constituencies in 2018, lost 14 and was reduced to 11 seats. This is the worst performance by the JD(S) since it was born in 1999.

BJP view

The JD(S)’s vote share in this region dipped from 38.2 percent in 2018 to 28.9 percent in 2023. Its showing was poor even outside the Old Mysuru region. Of the 25-plus seats outside the Vokkaliga basin, the JD(S) could win just four constituencies.

Another curious outcome of the assembly battle is that the BJP retained its total share of 36 per cent despite a dip in the number of seats it won. Some Vokkaliga leaders of BJP, who want to claim community leadership in Karnataka, are naturally upset over a possible tie-up with the JD(S) for the Lok Sabha election.

BJP leaders R Ashok and Dr CN Ashwathanarayana, as well as general secretary CT Ravi, are unhappy with the strategy of striking an alliance with the JD(S).

They cannot accept Kumaraswamy, whom they were attacking earlier, as their leader. If there is a BJP-JD(S) alliance, the latter will claim Hassan, Mandya, Mysuru, Bengaluru Rural, Tumakuru, Kolar, Chikkaballapura and Chamarajanagar seats. This is not to the liking of the BJP’s Vokkaliga leaders.

Also read: Is JD(S) with NDA or Opposition fold? Leadership’s indecisiveness puts party in crisis

Union Home Minister Amit Shah and BJP president JP Nadda have discussed the possibility of a pact with JD(S) with former chief minister and Lingayat leader BS Yediyurappa and general secretary BL Santosh.

It emerged that a triangular contest in the Old Mysuru region will benefit the Congress, not the BJP. But by aligning with JD(S), the Congress could be humbled.

What happens now?

But it seems the BJP  did not gauge the impact of such a political move on its Karnataka unit. It did not expect a kind of backlash from them, a BJP leader said.

Another BJP strategist said: “The party high command is not worried about the state unit’s opinion. Leaders are prudent enough to take calls in accordance with the political churning.

“Even now it is not too late… Anything may happen. Nobody can guess the party’s next move,” the strategist added.

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