With Karnataka Assembly elections in sight, Janata Dal (Secular) was all set to start its own ‘Pancharatna Ratha Yatre’ in a move to stand tall against the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
However, after it was kick-started at Kurudumale in Kolar on Tuesday, 1 November, the yatra has now been put off for a week due to incessant rains.
What's more: Afraid of post-election poaching, former Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy, who was slated to announce the first list of JD(S) candidates for 123 seats out of the total 224, announced that the potential MLAs will first have to take a divine pledge of loyalty.
Why it matters: While Rahul Gandhi has garnered massive support for the Congress during the Bharat Jodo Yatra, the BJP has put forward its reliable star campaigner, Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Facing the two national parties, the JD(S) is banking on its regional support and making sure that its candidates are "held accountable."
'They Are Not Going Anywhere': JD(S)
Speaking about why the oath will be taken, JD(S) spokesperson Tanveer Ahmed told The Quint, "This is to avoid the way poaching has happened, be it with Shiv Sena in Maharashtra or Karnataka in 2019. We are at an important place right now. Our party is looked at with respect by the common man. We don’t want to be taken for granted."
"This oath will make the candidates have a bond with the people who will elect them. It makes them answerable, instilling confidence in the people that they are not going anywhere," Ahmed added.
The JD(S) aims at winning at least 123 seats and independently forming a "government of Kannadigas" after the 2023 Assembly polls.
The toppling of coalition government in 2019: Though the BJP had won the most seats, 104, in the 2018 Assembly elections, the Indian National Congress (80 seats) and Janata Dal (Secular) (37 seats) formed a coalition government with 120 out of 224 seats.
However, following the 2019 general election, when the BJP-led NDA won 26 out of 28 seats in Karnataka, 14 Congress and 3 JD(S) MLAs submitted their resignations, toppling the alliance government and triggering by-elections in the state.
'Rahul Gandhi Has Proved His Might, but..'
Speaking on the support received by the Congress during the Bharat Jodo Yatra, Ahmed listed three points:
Congress Karnataka president DK Shivkumar held a meeting with every candidate, asking them to bring in 5,000 people to the rally. "I am not saying they were all brought," Ahmed added.
Things have indeed worked in favour of the Congress. "Rahul Gandhi has proved his might through speeches or meetings or by talking to people of various classes," he said.
"However, I don’t think this will help them in the long run," Ahmed said and pointed out that instead of fully focusing on the rally, "Rahul Gandhi was more worried about having Siddaramaiah and DK Shivkumar together."
'Once Bitten, Twice Shy': JD(S) on Modi in Karnataka
Speaking about the BJP's plan of bringing PM Modi into the ring, Ahmed remarked, "Once bitten, twice shy. The BJP can bring in Mr Modi once, twice, ten times, but the truth is everyone knows about the 40 percent commission government, about the cash-for-police postings controversy."
"Karnataka is a cash-rich place and its people have understood that the BJP is playing to a gallery. They have used every trick the had to create a divide and make money off of Karnataka, be it with the hijab issue or the halal meat issue."
Kumaraswamy had, in the past, headed a coalition government with both national parties – for 20 months with the BJP from February 2006, and with the Congress for 14 months after the 2018 Assembly polls.
"Most regional parties have been a victim of the BJP. Congress used to do it but the BJP has mastered the art," Ahmed remarked, and concluded, "Mr Modi is certainly a tall figure, but the people of Karnataka will not take him seriously."
More About the 'Pancharatna Yatre'
The yatra was flagged off on Tuesday, before being rescheduled due to the rains, by JD(S) patriarch HD Deve Gowda.
Kumaraswamy said that the yatra is to inform people about a five-fold programme called 'Pancharatna' that the JD(S) plans to implement. It includes quality education, health, housing, farmer welfare, and employment.
The first phase of Pancharatna Yatre will cover Assembly constituencies in Kolar, Chikkaballapur, Tumakuru, Hassan, and Ramanagara districts and is expected to end on 6 December at Anekal near Bengaluru.
The erstwhile Janata Dal had also launched its 1994 electoral battle from Kurudumale, after which the party won majority seats to form the government under Deve Gowda's leadership.
While it remains to be seen if the yatra by JD(S) will translate into more votes, the pledge by its candidates in front of Deve Gowda will certainly make post-election poaching a harder task.