Assembly polls: Battle of survival for JD(S) or kingmaker again?


Will the Janata Dal (Secular), headed by former Prime Minister H D Deve Gowda, have to fight for its political life in the Karnataka assembly elections of 2023, or will the local party once more act as a king maker, as it did in 2018, in the event of a hung assembly? This debate was widely discussed in political circles prior to the last two of elections, and it is doing so again now.
It is unclear how Gowda’s son and former Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy, who is in some ways running the JD(S)’ affairs alone with his ailing father taking a back seat, would guide the party in the May 10 Assembly elections. The JD(S) is plagued by desertions, internal rifts, and the perception of being a “family party.”
Since its formation in 1999, JD(S) has never formed a government on its own, but had been in power twice in coalition with both national parties- for 20 months with BJP from February 2006 and with Congress for 14 months after the May 2018 assembly polls- with Kumaraswamy as the Chief Minister.
This time the party has set an ambitious target of “mission 123” to form a government on its own by winning at least 123 out of total 224 seats, and has been seeking votes invoking regional Kannadiga pride and fueling a narrative that national parties — the BJP and Congress — fall short of serving interests of the State.
There are however doubts among some political observers and within a section of the party itself about JD(S) meeting this target; the party’s best ever performance so far has been in the 2004 assembly elections, when it won 58 seats, and 40 seats in 2013 was its second best.
The party’s vote share is stagnant, if not shrinking. It has been ranging between 18-20 per cent, as the party has managed to continue its hold on to a sizeable number of constituencies, predominantly in the Vokkaliga belt of Old Mysuru region.
In the 2018 polls, JD(S) won 37 seats.
Here is a SWOT analysis of the JD(S).
STRENGTHS: * Strong Vokkaliga community backing.
* Robust regional party image, coupled with Kannadiga identity pride.
* Goodwill among a section of rural masses with pro-farmer and pro-rural image, after having implemented farm loan waiver when Kumaraswamy was CM last time.
* Deftness in giving an alternative government in coalition with any one of the two national parties in case of a hung assembly.
WEAKNESSES: * “Family controlled party” image and accusations of pursuing “dynastic politics’ ‘, with eight members of Gowda’s immediate family into active politics.
* Inability to grow beyond the Vokkaliga dominated old Mysuru region, and certain select pockets of north Karnataka.
*Inability to come to power on one’s own strength.
*Lack of winnable candidates in many constituencies.