In Karnataka, with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) weakened and the Janata Dal (Secular) on the verge of extinction after the Assembly elections of May 2023, top leaders of both outfits, who have been foes, have been compelled to come together to forge an alliance ahead of the Lok Sabha polls in 2024.
The JD(S) on Friday, 22 September, formally joined the National Democratic Alliance with former Karnataka chief minister and JD(S) leader HD Kumaraswamy meeting Union Home Minister Amit Shah in Delhi, as per ANI.
"Today formally we discussed joining hands with the BJP. We've discussed the preliminary issues formally... There is no demand (from our side)," ANI quoted Kumaraswamy as saying.
So, what led to the development?
The Karnataka BJP leaders, who were earlier confident of repeating the 2019 Lok Sabha performance of winning 25 of the total 28 Parliamentary seats, seemed to have realised that this feat cannot be achieved independently in the present political circumstances.
The JD(S), meanwhile, has been rudely shaken in the old Mysuru region, a Vokkaliga-dominated belt, with the emergence of Chief Minister Siddaramaiah hailing from there and Deputy Chief Minister DK Shivakumar gaining acceptability as a Vokkaliga leader.
With the political scenario in Karnataka presently favouring the Congress and the Lok Sabha polls just eight months away, the BJP and the JD(S) have decided to be a prop for each other.
Deve Gowda's Talks With BJP's Top Leadership
Earlier this month, former Prime Minister and JD(S) supremo HD Deve Gowda, who had opposed any alliance with the BJP, and his son, former Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy, who had no qualms about allying with the BJP even after the 2006 fiasco, chose to travel to New Delhi to hold talks with Union Minister Amit Shah and BJP national president JP Nadda last week.
The first confirmation of the high-level meeting came from former Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa, who told the media on 8 September that Shah has agreed to give four seats to the JD(S) under the alliance.
"This gives us strength. It will help win 25-26 Lok Sabha seats together," he said.
In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the JD(S) had a seat-sharing pact with the Congress party and contested seven seats. It managed to win Hassan, which is Gowda's home turf. The former PM, who vacated the Hassan seat for his grandson Prajwal Revanna and contested from Tumakuru in the seat-sharing agreement with the Congress, was defeated.
Gowda's talks with the BJP's top leadership are in sharp contrast to the stand taken by him at a meeting of the JD(S) in Bengaluru on 28 July, where he announced that his party would contest the Lok Sabha polls independently.
However, there are speculations that the Congress is trying to woo disgruntled BJP and JD(S) legislators and members to join the party, and even help some Congress turncoat MLAs plan a Ghar Wapasi after they helped Yediyurappa form the government in 2019. This is said to have made the two Opposition parties in Karnataka think about the seat-sharing for the Lok Sabha elections.
The Crucial Seats for Sharing Within the Alliance
Yediyurappa said Shah has agreed to cede four Lok Sabha seats to the JD(S) which has been asking for five. The seats are said to be Mandya, Hassan, Tumakuru, Bengaluru Rural, and Chikballapur.
According to sources both in the BJP and JD(S) camps, the Mandya seat will be the bone of contention between the two parties.
Actor Sumalatha Ambareesh won the Mandya seat as an Independent candidate defeating Kumaraswamy's son Nikhil Kumaraswamy (also from the JD(S)) in 2019. Ahead of the Assembly elections in Karnataka, Sumalatha extended her support to the BJP and is now set to be the party's official candidate in 2024.
Mandya, known as the sugar bowl of Karnataka, is dominated by the Vokkaliga community and a hotbed of Cauvery water politics. It is one district that the JD(S) wants to regain, and the party has reportedly asked the BJP for it.
The JD(S) had a clean sweep in the district by winning all seven Assembly constituencies in 2018. In the 2023 elections, it could win only one, with the Congress bagging five and an independent candidate winning the remainder. "If, by any chance, talks between the BJP and JD(S) fail, it will be because of the Mandya seat," a Congress leader said.
It is being said the BJP is more than willing to give away Hassan, Tumakuru, Bengaluru Rural, and Chikkaballapur to the JD(S), where the latter is strong. All four seats have a large population from the Vokkaliga community and with the BJP failing to penetrate into the old Mysuru region in the Assembly polls, the party will have no qualms about handing over these to the JD(S) to take on the Congress.
Besides, Bengaluru Rural, represented by Shivakumar's brother DK Suresh, the only seat won by the Congress in 2019, has virtually become the DK brothers' bastion.
The BJP's target to retain its tally of winning 25 seats by allying with the JD(S) still appears to be an uphill task.
The party has to toil alone in three constituencies each in Bengaluru city and the coastal belt, and 13 in Kalyan Karnataka and Kittur Karnataka. The coastal belt and the two northern Karnataka regions dominated by the Lingayat community have been the BJP's strong pockets with the JD(S) presence being marginal. But the party's electoral skills will have to be seen in the three constituencies of Bengaluru, which Shivakumar as the minister in charge, is rebranding.
Possible Repercussions of the Alliance
The talks about an alliance at the top level have surprised leaders in both parties.
Former Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai and BJP MLA CN Ashwath Narayan said they would abide by the central leadership's decision. In the JD(S) circles, even Kumaraswamy, who has been overtly leaning towards the BJP and donned the role of opposition leader unofficially, was tight-lipped about the talks.
A formal announcement of the seat sharing is expected to be made on 13 September.
According to JD(S) sources, the alliance may not be acceptable to the minorities in the party. "The JD(S) has been an option for those who wanted an alternative party to the Congress with secular credentials. The possibility of minority leaders in the JD(S) quitting or remaining neutral, if the alliance is sealed, is not ruled out," a JD(S) functionary said.
Shivakumar wondered if this would spell the end for the JD(S). "I don't know how the ideology of JD(S) will work out. What will happen to their sitting and former legislators is not known," he maintained. There are reports of the Congress tapping JD(S) MLAs who are upset and are said to be trying for 13 of the party's MLAs to defect so that they do not attract provisions of the Anti-Defection Act.
The situation is similar in the BJP circles, with the proposed alliance being not to the liking of the grassroots workers. Many seniors are hurt that the party gave a red-carpet welcome to the 16 Congress and JD(S) MLAs who defected by accommodating them in the cabinet.
"In any alliance, it is the cadres that matter, not the leaders. It will not go down well in the old Mysuru region. Both the BJP and JD(S) are done and dusted, and by entering into an alliance, they are showing that they are weak. People will scoff at this alliance," Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee general secretary Milind Dharmasena said.
In 2008, the BJP formed the government in Karnataka for the first time on its own, and this victory was seen as the gateway for the party to establish its hold on South India.
From having just two MLAs in the Assembly in 1985 to emerging as the single largest party in 2004 and 2018, the BJP's winning run is now seeing a downslide, with the party yet to appoint a leader of opposition in the Legislative Assembly and choose a state unit President.
Meanwhile, the Congress party is on an aggressive drive to win 20 seats buoyed by its victory in the Assembly polls. The last time the Congress could boast of a good performance in the Lok Sabha polls in the state was in 1999, when party leader Sonia Gandhi contested from Ballari and later vacated the seat.
The Congress bagged 18 seats with the BJP winning seven and the JD(U) only three. The former's downfall started in 2004 with the Congress winning only single-digit seats with its worst performance being in 2019.
(This piece was originally published on 9 September. It has been republished with updates from The Quint's archives after the JD(S) joined the NDA on 22 September.)
(Naheed Ataulla is a senior political journalist based in Bengaluru. This is an opinion article and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)