On 12 May, when The Quint reached out to a Janata Dal (Secular) leader, he was not too happy with his party. The Vokkaliga leader said, “The candidates, especially those in Bengaluru, have not got any money from the party.” The leader, however, said the Vokkaligas will stand by the JD(S) and its first family HD Deve Gowda, HD Kumaraswamy, and others. Vokkaligas, an influential caste like the Lingayats, form 16 percent of Karnataka’s population.
When the election results came out on 13 May, Vokkaliga stronghold Old Mysuru region had swung in favour of the Congress, awarding the grand old party with 44 seats and the JD(S) with just 14 seats. In Bengaluru In some seats in Bengaluru too, Vokkaliga votes seem to have gone to the Congress over JD(S) Why?
A tall leader of Karnataka Vokkaligara Sangha told The Quint, “On the whole, Vokkaligas have now recognised that other than the Gowda family there is another Vokkaliga leader, DK Shivakumar, we can rely on.” Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) President DK Shivakumar is a Vokkaliga who contested and won from Kanakapura constituency. As per India Today Axis My India exit polls, the Congress was expected to see a seven percent increase of Vokkaliga votes. The results seem to have been in line with this prediction.
The biggest influence of Vokkaliga vote swing towards the congress waws witnessed when Nikhil Kumaraswamy was defeated by Congress candidate HD Iqbal Hussain in Ramanagara by a margin of over 11,000 votes, prompting the Congress to thank Ramanagara district for favouring the party. In Kunigal of Bengaluru Rural to Congress was chosen over JD(S).
Shivakumar’s Rise at the Expense of Kumaraswamy
While former Prime Minister HD Deve Gowda’s son and former Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy faced a tough contest with the BJP’s CP Yogeshwara in Channapatna of Ramanagara district, located about 60 kilometers from Bengaluru, in Kanakapura DK Shivakumar won by a huge margin of over 80,000 votes and a vote share of over 75 percent. During the run-up to Karnataka elections 2023, DK Shivakumar had positioned himself as a strong Vokkaliga leader. This, while calculatedly keeping a safe and revered distance from JD(S) patriarch HD Deve Gowda.
“In Old Mysuru region, the general mood was the Vokkaligas have supported the JD(S) for too long and that they need the option to choose a different leadership,” a leader of Karnataka Vokkaligara Sangha said.
DK Shivakumar emerged victorious in sensing this dissatisfaction of the community and became active in the Vokkaligara Sangha, which invited him more than once to its pre-election events. Shivakumar’s strategy was, however, not to undermine the JD(S)’ first family but to win the trust of the Vokkaligas, at least in equal measure when compared to their confidence in the JD(S). As the Vokkaligas started demanding over 12 percent reservation, Shivakumar let the community’s ire burn against the BJP and not the JD(S). He said the BJP let down the Vokkaligas by not giving them reservation. This strategic move led the community to accept him as a leader who has come of age, unlike in the past when his influence within the community was considered to be limited.
Is JD(S)' Money Power Declining?
Meanwhile, the JD(S) seemed to be less confident towards the run up the Assembly elections. While the party contested in 123 seats, HD Kumaraswamy was clear that he is worried about the party’s financial security. DK Shivakumar was able to make the most of this situation too, Vokkaliga leaders said.
“DK Shivakumar gave the impression that he has the money power and the networking power to stay afloat even as the JD(S) leadership kept complaining about finances. It’s not just the votes, but the community’s money too has gone towards the Congress’ campaign because the community felt more confident of supporting a stronger leadership,” a Vokkaliga leader of the JD(S) said.
HD Kumaraswamy, whose party had won 37 seats in 2018, had claimed right after elections that JD(S) could lose about 25 “sure seats” because of the party’s financial crunch.
“In Bengaluru region, some of the Vokkaliga JD(S) leaders who have won have put in the money from their own pockets. Only those who could mobilise their own finances have faired well this election,” a Vokkaliga leader said.
Beyond the immediate impact he has had on the community, Shivakumar is also at an advantage because the 65-year-old may have years of political life ahead to woo the community. Shivakumar may get the time to cultivate his Vokkaliga clout in the next few years and if Assembly elections 2023 are an indication, the Vokkaligas seem to be open to this possibility.