On a plain reading, the BJP’s victory in three Rajya Sabha seats in Karnataka, especially the third, in a tight race with the Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular) appears like it was due to a lack of coordination between the allies former in fighting unitedly against the BJP.
A closer look at the BJP’s victory, especially in the third seat despite having only 31 spare votes compared to the 32 votes of the JD(S) and 24 for the Congress, reveals the shifting sands in the fortunes of the JD(S) and its leadership.
While the ruling BJP and the Congress, the primary Opposition party in Karnataka, managed to ensure that the first preference votes (121 MLAs for the BJP and 70 MLAs for the Congress) were all cast for their own candidates, the JD(S) was not able to retain the support of all its MLAs.
Two of the 32 cross-voted JDS MLAs — K Srinivas Gowda from Kolar for the Congress and SR Srinivas from Gubbi for the BJP — contributing to the reduction of the JD(S)’s first preference votes to 30 and an increase in the first-preference votes for the third BJP candidate to 33 (including an excess vote cast for the main candidate, Nirmala Sitharaman).
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It was a repeat of 2016 when eight JD(S) MLAs, disgruntled with the leadership of the then party chief and former CM HD Kumaraswamy, cross-voted for the Congress and defeated JD(S) candidate BM Farook. The eight were suspended and they joined the Congress ahead of the 2018 state polls.
Sources familiar with the strategies involved in the Rajya Sabha polls in Karnataka said several forces cutting across political parties had come together to exploit the weaknesses in the JD(S) to prevent a win for its candidate Kupendra Reddy who is a wealthy real estate businessman with Rs 815 crore of wealth.
Sources involved with the Rajya Sabha polls said the loss was likely to diminish the standing of the JD(S) leadership in the dominant Vokkaliga community, which is the party’s driving force, on account of the BJP ensuring the victory of filmstar S Jaggesh who belongs to the community.
The reduction of the popularity of the JD(S) leadership — comprising former Prime Minister HD Devegowda, HD Kumaraswamy and his brother HD Revanna — is considered crucial for the poll fortunes of the BJP and the Congress in Karnataka.
The elections for the 224-member state assembly in 2004, 2008, and 2018 were thrown up hung verdicts, with the BJP, the Congress, and the JD(S) sharing votes and the JD(S) emerging as a kingmaker in 2004 and 2018 by winning 30-60 seats in south Karnataka.
In the current Rajya Sabha polls, the spanner was thrown into the JD(S)’s plans to grab the fourth Rajya Sabha seat (by luring the 24 excess Congress votes and the 31 excess BJP votes) by the Congress’s move to field a Muslim candidate, Mansoor Ali Khan, and dare the JD(S) to support him.
Before the polls, HD Kumaraswamy accused former CM Siddaramaiah of the Congress of not acquiescing to his party’s demand for support and fielding a candidate who had no hopes of winning without JD(S) support.
“JD(S) has fielded Kupendra Reddy as her first candidate in the Rajya Sabha election. He is an entrepreneur, a social worker, and a progressive thinker. He is an experienced Rajya Sabha member and all parties must extend support to him with an open mind. To strengthen the secular forces Congress must fully support him,” Kumaraswamy said.
The state Congress refused to play ball after getting a clearance from the party’s own central leadership and exploited weaknesses in JD(S) ranks to show up its leadership as weak and lacking control over party MLAs.
“Is Kumaraswamy not responsible (for the BJP victory)? We were the first to field a candidate for the polls. We had 25 votes. Who fielded their candidate on the second day? Could they not have avoided fielding a candidate? When Deve Gowda was fielded (in 2020) did we also field a candidate? Who helped the BJP win? They helped the BJP win,” Siddaramaiah said in response to Kumaraswamy’s allegation of the Congress helping the BJP.
“We suffered by joining hands with them (JDS) for the parliament polls,” Siddaramaiah added.
The Congress also played the card of fielding its second candidate with the objective of calling out the JD(S) as the “B team” of the BJP in the event of a BJP-JD(S) convergence for the fourth seat.
The failure of the JD(S) leadership in keeping its flock together is likely to increase the political stock of state Congress president DK Shivakumar who kept the Congress votes together, sources said. Shivakumar is a challenger for the leadership of the Vokkaliga community in south Karnataka that currently lies with Deve Gowda and Kumaraswamy.
Incidentally, apart from the two cross votes by JD(S) MLAs, the BJP’s third Lahar Singh Siroya, a member of the minority Jain community, also received the second preference votes of two MLAs linked to the Congress and the JD(S) . This indicates that forces cutting across the BJP, the Congress, and the JD(S) came together to facilitate Siroya’s win, sources said.
The JD(S) loss has resulted in the spilling over of the party’s internal turmoil into the public domain. Kumaraswamy has accused SR Srinivas of duping the party and voting for the BJP. The MLA has responded by accusing Kumaraswamy of fielding candidates in elections on the basis of payments.
“He has voted for BJP. He claimed to have cast a blank vote. All the votes that were shown to us came to our account. Today he has shown his true colours. We will complain to the voters,” Kumaraswamy said about Srinivas.
The MLA from Gubbi said in reply, “I will not be subservient to anyone. I will act as per my conscience. He is acting out a big drama. Kumaraswamy is like a chameleon. He thinks he knows everything. There are many people who know things better than him. The boat is sinking and so he is reacting in this manner.”
He went on to allege, “They collect money from rich people saying they will be given election seats. Like how people in villages hold small plots of land for their living that is the way they are running the party — it is a means for their livelihood. They do everything on a payment basis. If you pay them money you get a ticket to contest a poll.”
In the 2018 elections, the JD(S) leadership saw it as a personal challenge to defeat the MLAs who had cross-voted in Rajya Sabha polls two years earlier. They ended up ensuring the defeat of the MLAs who contested the state elections on Congress tickets.