Viva vokkaligas! from political wilderness to rebirth?

JD(S) staring at decline as BJP rides on calculated poll victories in Mandya, K.R. Pete to expand base.

Bengaluru: The December 5 byelections, which saw the Bharatiya Janata Party( BJP) acquire a pan-Karnataka image, were doubly pleasing for the party as it won the K R Pete bypoll in the heart of the Vokkaliga heartland of Mandya district for the first time. For the Janata Dal(S), on the other hand, the K R Pete outcome came as a blow as Mandya is believed to be its stronghold.

Although infighting in the Congress and JD(S) is reported to have contributed to this first ever BJP victory in the sugar bowl of Karnataka, the bypoll has dealt the JD(S), which prides itself on being a Vokkaliga party, a second blow in a matter of months as the recent Lok Sabha elections too saw it lose from the Mandya parliamentary constituency.

The twin blows have come as a shock to the party, which was riding high on Vokkaliga support until the 2018 assembly polls in the state that saw it win 37 constituencies mainly on the backing of the community.

But since then, the JD(S) appears to be losing support among the Vokkaligas by alienating many of its leaders , who were once loyal to it. With the party becoming more and more family-centric, these leaders appear to feel increasingly sidelined and don’t see a future for themselves in its organisation. Unlike in the past when only three players in the Gowda clan actively participated in politics, now there are new entrants like Mrs Anitha Kumaraswamy, wife of the former Chief Minister, H D Kumaraswamy, who is already a second time MLA, and Mrs Bhavani Revanna, wife of his brother and senior leader, H D Revanna. More recently, the third generation of the Gowda family entered the arena. While Mr Kumaraswamy’s son, Nikhil , unsuccessfully contested the Mandya parliamentary elections, Mr Revanna’s son, Prajwal was elected MP from Hassan in the recent Lok Sabha poll.

Shooting itself in the foot, the Gowda family also started to try and destroy all those who deserted the party, especially in the Vokkaliga heartland, forcing the deserters to seek support of other parties for their survival. While Mr Gowda ensured the defeat of leaders like N Cheluvarayaswamy and Ramesh Bandisidde Gowda in Mandya, they in turn, made sure his grandson, Nikhil was defeated in the parliamentary election from Mandya allegedly with the help of Chief Minister, B S Yediyurappa and former Chief Minister, Siddaramaiah of the Congress. The family’s poor equations with these former partymen seem to have worked against it in the K R Pete byelection too.

In more bad news for the JD(S), the community’s famed Adichunchanagiri Mutt is leaning more and more towards the BJP. Its new seer, Sri Nirmalananda Swamiji is close to Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adithyanath and is active in the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. During the byelections, most of the legislators, who deserted the Congress-JD(S) coalition government in July, were seen hobnobbing with the mutt. Although soon after the byelection results, the seer rushed to Mr Deve Gowda’s residence to pacify him, the damage was already done.

While the JD(S) may prefer to see the desertion of the Vokkaligas as temporary, it has reason to be worried as desertions of leaders and political manipulations by other parties did not wean them away from it in such numbers in the past.

The Vokkaligas, who lost power to other communities in 1956 post unification of the old Mysuru region with other Kannada speaking areas, rallied behind Mr Deve Gowda, when he became Chief Minister and went on to become Prime Minister. But their loyalty to him waned after he left the Janata Parivar and the next time the Vokkaligas rallied behind the Congress to make Mr S M Krishna Chief Minister in 1999.

Currently, while the Malnad, coastal and urban Vokkaligas, including those in Bengaluru city are said to by and large with the saffron party, which is known to be Lingayat dominated, they are divided between the Congress and the JD(S) in old Mysuru region.

But since the formation of the coalition government in 2018, when Mr Kumaraswamy became Chief Minister for the second time, trouble has been brewing among the Vokkaliga supporters of both parties. Although the Gowda family brokered peace with the Congress' community strongman, D K Shivakumar, it doesn’t seem to have helped matters much.

The situation has come in only too handy for the BJP, which has begun taking advantage of the discontent among some of the JD(S)'s Vokkaliga leaders with the Gowda family to slowly make an inroad into areas like Mandya ,which had shunned it previously .

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