Winning the Vokkaligas: Will Siddu grab a slice of Gowda's pie?

The CM had even asked his ministers not to attack the JD(S) or Mr Gowda even if there was a strong provocation from them.

When friends fall apart, when guru and shishya break bonds, the Earth rumbles and political fortunes come tumbling down. So is the case of JD(S) supremo H.D. Deve Gowda and Chief Minister Siddaramaiah who once weathered tough political battles standing shoulder to shoulder and are now arraigned against each other, with the guru venting his spleen on the shishya for being so forgetful of all that he had done and blaming him for the sliding prospects of his party, the JD(S). In the Old Mysuru region where Deve Gowda and Siddaramaiah ground the opposition under their feet 15 years ago, the Congress and JD(S) are now raring to go at each other's jugular to grab the major share of the poll pie. Will the Vokkaligas back their ageing patriarch who is bent on installing his son H.D. Kumaraswamy as CM a second time? Or has Deve Gowda lost his magical hold over the community with many of his young loyalists deserting him in search of greener pastures in the Congress? SHYAM SUNDAR VATTAM explores the political patterns emerging in the land of the Vokkaligas where Deve Gowda still lords above everyone else but is seeing his popularity being steadily chipped away by a resolute Siddaramaiah, who knows every tactic of his.


Traditionally, the Vokkaliga community , mostly agriculturists have always backed Mr Deve Gowda in almost all Assembly and Lok Sabha elections irrespective of the wave in support of either the Congress or BJP. Though, the JD(S) has largely lost its base in Mumbai-Karnataka and Hyderabad-Karnataka regions due to the exodus of important leaders to other parties, its stranglehold over Old Mysuru districts like Mysuru, Chamarajanagar, Mandya, Hassan, Ramanagara, Bengaluru Rural and Tumakuru remained intact. So in the 2013 Assembly polls, when the Congress made the best of the split in the BJP and went on a winning spree elsewhere, the JD(S) won a major chunk of seats in these seven districts. No one expected relations between Mr Gowda and Mr Siddaramaiah to be as cordial as in the past after they parted ways in 2006 but there was no animosity visible with Siddaramaiah going to extreme lengths to pacify and placate his one-time mentor-till recently. During the Cauvery agitation a couple of years ago, the CM personally invited Mr Gowda to Vidhana Soudha seeking suggestions on how to deal with the century-old river water sharing dispute. When the Congress failed to secure a majority to seize power in the BBMP, Mr Siddaramaiah not only did the talking to Mr Gowda, he also sent his emissary, then Transport Minister Ramalinga Reddy to seek JD(S) support.

The CM had even asked his ministers not to attack the JD(S) or Mr Gowda even if there was a strong provocation from them. Siddaramaiah made it a point not to cross the 'Lakshman Rekha' knowing that equations may change drastically during a phase of political uncertainty and he may even have to fall back on the JD(S) for support.

However, their relationship nose-dived during the Mahamastakabhisheka of Lord Bahubali at Shravanabelagola when Mr Gowda's name went missing in the invitation. This annoyed the veteran leader so much that he blasted his one-time loyalist. Then came a series of political developments including the Veershaiva-Lingayat row and the great hurry shown by the state government to grant separate religion tag to the Lingayats. Mr Siddaramaiah's repeated statements in public meetings that the JD(S) will not come to power and state JD(S) President H.D. Kumaraswamy will not become CM again,further angered Mr Gowda.

Since then, the battle of nerves had been going on between Siddaramaiah and Deve Gowda and his sons. The Congress added fuel to fire declining to support the JD(S) nominee, Mr B.M. Farooq in the recent biennial elections to the Rajya Sabha. Besides, seven JD(S) legislators deserted the party, joining the Congress.

Congress President Rahul Gandhi's diatribe against the JD(S) terming it the 'B' team of the BJP and his calling the JD(S) 'Janata Dal Sangh Pariwar' at public rallies in Chikkamagaluru, Chamarajanagar, Mysuru and Mandya, widened the gap between the Congress and JD(S). Mr Gowda and Mr Kumaraswamy, not the ones to let an affront go unanswered, went hammer and tongs against Mr Rahul saying he was tutored by Mr Siddaramaiah to make such statements.

For the Congress, it has always been a win-win situation in Old Mysuru since 2006 with Siddaramaiah leading the charge against his erstwhile colleagues in the JD(S). The Kuruba strongman proved to be a prize catch for the Congress as a number of JD(S) leaders like Dr H.C. Mahadevappa, a Dalit leader and Mr Mahadevaprasad, a noted Lingayat leader followed him into the Congress.

In the absence of Mr Siddaramaiah, Mr Gowda took on himself the onerous task of reorganising his party in his fortress. Having grown under Gowda's shadow for almost two decades, it did not take much time for Siddaramaiah to strengthen the Congress in Old Mysuru. The strength of the JD(S) dwindled further, after Mr Kumaraswamy refused to transfer power to Mr B.S. Yeddyurappa of the BJP under a power sharing agreement in 2007. This resulted in a resurgence of both the Congress and BJP with the JD(S) pushed into a corner in the 2008 polls.

Deve Gowda's party did put up a better show in 2013, thanks to the split in the BJP but soon lost ground with many of its MLAs jumping ship.

Can Siddaramaiah wreck Mr Gowda's plans to play kingmaker-a role he excels in- after the coming polls by winning a sizeable number of seats in the region? The Congress is not too worried over the pre-poll alliance struck by the JD(S) with the Bahujan Samaj Party which has no strong base in Karnataka. But there are senior Congress leaders who fear the wrath of the Vokkaligas which is why Congress President Rahul Gandhi visited the Vokkaliga run Sri Adichunchanagiri Math in Bengaluru recently and met the pontiff to seek his blessings for the party. According to sources in the math, the pontiff expressed his dissatisfaction over the neglect of the Vokkaliga community by the Siddaramaiah government to which Mr Rahul reportedly replied that this issue would be addressed when his party comes to power after the May 12 Assembly polls.

But soon after the meeting, Deve Gowda too rushed to the math and is learnt to have told the seer how the Congress government had given the community a raw deal. He sought the seer's help to install a government led by someone from the Vokkaliga community (read H.D. Kumaraswamy).

Mr K.T. Srikante Gowda, a JD(S) MLC from Mysuru-Mandya, told Deccan Chronicle that the growing popularity of his party in the Cauvery delta has become a big worry for the Congress. The farmers, irrespective of their caste, are unhappy with the Siddaramaiah government as they feel nothing has been done to improve their economic status. As many as 3,500 farmers have committed suicide under the current dispensation which speaks a lot of the 'pro-farmer' approach of the Siddu government. With no boost for irrigation projects, the area under paddy cultivation has shrunk in Mandya and Mysuru districts and farmers have switched to horse gram.

There are many in the Congress who privately admit that none including Siddaramaiah can match the charisma of Gowda, who has 50 years of political experience under his belt. People of Karnataka still remember the generous grants given by Gowda as prime minister for the completion of all pending projects in both the Cauvery and Krishna basins, recalls a leader adding that Siddaramaiah's barbs against the JD(S) and Mr Gowda would not have any effect on the people of south Karnataka.

As for the BJP, it's still a distand third in Old Mysuru with a former BJP MLC saying his party may have won a couple of seats in Mysuru City in the past but is yet to make inroads into JD(S) bastions. This time, the BJP is hoping to win some seats in Chamarajanagar, Mysuru, Mandya and Ramanagara districts with the help of former minister Mr V Srinivasprasad, former CM Mr S.M. Krishna and former minister Mr C.P. Yogeshwar, all recent entrants into the saffron party.

The battle for Old Mysuru- the land where the Wodeyars ruled supreme for hundreds of years, where royalty, rich resources and fertile land created an amazing bounty of wealth, has begun in right earnest. There are 70 seats up for grabs and its proximity to the power hub, Bengaluru makes the region all the more critical for any party hoping to win Karnataka. The Gowdas hold the key to success in this land and the Gowdas, like always, will keep everyone guessing till the last vote is counted.

The district scenario

It's traditionally a stronghold of the Congress but the JD(S) is trying its best to win as many seats as possible, in the absence of former minister H.S. Mahadevaprasad. The Congress managed to retain the Gundlupet seat by fielding his wife, Ms Geeta Mahadevprasad in the bypoll. In HD Kote reserved constituency, the Congress has decided to give the ticket to the son of JD(S) MLA, Mr Chikkamadu who died recently.

In the 2013 Assembly polls, the BJP suffered a drubbing at the hands of the Congress which won seven of the total eight seats. All eyes are now on Chamundeshwari and Varuna Assembly seats where Mr Siddaramaiah and his son, Dr Yathindra Siddaramaiah are likely to contest. The BJP is planning to give Yathindra a run for his money by fielding B.Y. Vijayendra, son of Yeddyurappa against him in Varuna.

The BJP had the upper hand in this hill district in the last two elections as the Congress did not have a strong leader to take on the lotus party. Recently, former JD(S) MLC, Mr M.C. Nanaiah has been inducted into the Congress to rejuvenate the party.

Termed the 'Sugar Bowl' of Karnataka, this is where the Congress and JD(S) will be locking horns. Mr Gowda is sparing no effort to win the maximum seats and defeat his former loyalists, N Cheluvara yaswamy and Ramesh Bandisiddegowda who joined the Congress recently. It will be big news if the BJP manages to open its account in the district. The saffron party is relying on the influence of Mr S.M. Krishna who hails from Somanahalli in Maddur in the district.

A bastion of Energy Minister D.K. Shivakumar, Ramanagara will witness a high voltage poll battle between the Congress and JD(S). Mr C.P. Yogeshwar who joined the BJP recently, is planning to seek re-election from Chennapatna seat where Ms Anita Kumaraswamy could be his rival. Mr D.K. Shivakumar has the responsibility of ensuring the victory of Mr M.C. Balakrishna, a JD(S) MLA who joined the Congress last week.

Considered a strong fortress of Mr Deve Gowda and his family, the Congress has deployed minister A. Manju to upset the JD(S) calculations. Mr Manju and Mr Gowda have been involved in verbal battles and it will be interesting to see whether the electorate in Hassan still backs Mr Gowda like in the past.

( Source : Deccan Chronicle. )
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