Hooking prize catches: Will Deve Gowda's gamble work in Karnataka?

by A Ram Babu

Until the mainline national parties initiated the process of ticket allotment for the forthcoming elections by announcing names of candidates, the Janata Dal (Secular) had almost remained out of the reckoning. The morale of the cadres was at its lowest as the party could not forge ahead since its crushing defeat in the by-elections held last year to Bangalore Rural and Mandya Lok Sabha constituencies.

Deve Gowda. Reuters

Deve Gowda. Reuters

Despite the party establishing its dominance earlier (in 2009 elections) in the two constituencies, the defeat last year has seriously undermined its confidence. These two constituencies have traditionally been Vokkaliga strongholds, generally considered the pocket boroughs of the JD(S).

Just when the JD(S) was being written off in public perception, as far as electoral prospects were concerned, the party suddenly started rising like a phoenix from the ashes. This was largely because of former Prime Minister HD Deve Gowda’s cautious moves to offset the party’s disadvantage of not having candidates strong enough to win.

The JD (S) national president is known for his determination and tactical shrewdness to achieve his goals. He is not the one to give up easily when the chips are down. Being a calculating organizer of party affairs, he knows only too well how to make the best of a bad bargain.

However elusive the third front may seem, the JD (S), like many other regional parties, keeps alive the hope that conditions will finally emerge to form a non-BJP and non-Congress government at the Centre. Deve Gowda, who can be counted as one of those leaders aspiring to become a formidable force after elections, is focusing his vision on this prospect. This scenario is based on unpredictable factors that may influence the final outcome.

Now that the two national parties of the Congress and the BJP have sprung surprises by denying party tickets to prominent leaders in their respective parties, Deve Gowda promptly got his act together by luring them into his party by offering tickets.

The JD (S) leader has already fielded V Dhananjay Kumar of the Karnataka Janata Paksha, a party formed by breakaway BJP group, from Udupi-Chikmagalur constituency.

The JD (S) is badly in need of candidates with good chances of winning in Bangalore constituencies and the party has openly offered tickets to veteran Congress leader CK Jaffer Sharief, who commands considerable clout among Muslims, and HT Sangliana, former Director General of Police, who represents Christians, after they were left out in the cold in the Congress Party. While Sharief was offered candidature from Mysore constituency, Sangliana was offered ticket to contest from Bangalore Central (he had unsuccessfully contested from here in 2009).

Sharief is returning from Mecca on Monday and is expected to give the nod to the JD (S) offer. Sangliana, who is upset that the Congress has opted not to field even a single Christian to contest, is likely to make known his decision to join the JD (S) in a day or two.

The JD (S) is also seriously trying to convince another ex-IPS officer KC Ramamurthy to accept ticket for Bangalore North after he failed to get nominated by the Congress for the constituency on technical grounds. The fact that he is from Vokkaliga community is an additional reason to endear himself to the JD (S) boss Deve Gowda.

Deve Gowda has so far announced candidates only for 15 constituencies. He is taking his own sweet time to announce candidature for the remaining 13 constituencies. He is playing the game of wait and watch by holding his cards close to his chest. He has already spread his net and managed to rope in disgruntled leaders with reasonably high chances of winning.

He is working overtime to exploit caste equations to the maximum for electoral gains. As part of his inducement strategy, Deve Gowda resorted to doing something atypical of him: he had gone out of his way to welcome back Mahima Patel, son of the late Karnataka chief minister JH Patel, in the party. He had gone to Mahima Patel’s home to offer him ticket when the Congress spurned his request to contest from the Davangere Lok Sabha constituency.

Interestingly, Mahima Patel’s strength in politics derives largely from the stature of his father with whom Deve Gowda shared a close relationship. JH Patel owed his rise to becoming the chief minister to Deve Gowda when the latter was the prime minister. Davangere Lok Sabha constituency is a Lingayat stronghold. The prestigious constituency is likely to witness a keen triangular contest since both the BJP and the Congress are fielding Lingayats as their candidates.

Patel Jr. had won the Assembly election from Channagiri (a segment of Davangere) as a JD(S) candidate in 2004. Later he had quit the JD(S) to float his own party called Swarna Yuga. As the new party was a non-starter he joined the Congress in 2009.

Deve Gowda never misses the caste plot in any electoral battle and always tries his best to get his caste equations right.

For Shimoga Lok Sabha constituency he has fielded a complete novice at politics: Gita Shivrajkumar, daughter of the late chief minister S Bangarappa, who remained all his life an unrivalled leader in the region, representing the Idiga community. The party’s choice makes sense from the point of view of caste arithmetic. Another added advantage to her candidature is the fact that she is the daughter in-law of larger-than-life and legendary film personality the late Rajkumar.

To ward off criticism that the JD (S) is a family-controlled political party and prove that the party cared for the welfare of the backward classes, Deve Gowda offered the top state-level post in his party to a backward classes leader A Krishnappa when he was denied ticket by the Congress Party to contest the Assembly elections held last year despite his track record of being elected four times as legislator from Varthur Assembly constituency.

The JD (S) is hunting for a candidate to field in Bangalore South, dominated by Vokkaliga voters. It is trying to convince a Vokkaliga stalwart to contest from the constituency where Brahmins are in the fray representing both the Congress and the BJP.

If Deve Gowda’s strategy of accommodating ticket-seekers rejected by main parties pays off, it may be because of their long-standing public life and popularity enjoyed in their constituencies consisting of voters belonging to their respective castes or communities.

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Updated Date: Mar 24, 2014 15:57:08 IST

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