With dissidence simmering in the ranks of both the ruling BJP and opposition Congress in Karnataka, the third largest party in the state Janata Dal (Secular) is seeing an opportunity to make a comeback by emulating the similar successful caste combination of Samajwadi party’s Yadav-Muslims in the recent UP assembly elections.
The HD Kumaraswamy led Janata Dal (Secular) has been at the forefront of exposing the scam-ridden BJP government in the past four years, and it believes that in the run-up to the early polls scheduled to be held next year, if it can manage to woo Muslim voters who are currently disenchanted with the Congress, and also broaden its base by including backward castes like Madigas, Kurubas and Idigas, it has a fair chance of wresting control of the state from other parties.
JD(S) draws its votes mainly from the OBC Vokkaliga caste which forms 15% of the population and is the second largest caste in Karnataka after the Lingayats. JD(S) insiders say the party has got a survey done according to which Muslims who have traditionally voted for the Congress are disenchanted and can be weaned away from the national party if they strike the right cords. According to their data sheet, there are more than 80 (out of the 224) constituencies where Muslims are dominant and, in another 50-60 constituencies, Muslim voters can play a substantial role.
Hence, in the past few months, JD(S) leader Kumaraswamy has been meeting several Muslim leaders, organisations and religious heads of the communities seeking their support and has even held a massive convention for Muslims in Bangalore who form close to 12-13% of the population. JD(S) has also been making serious efforts to correct its image among the Muslims which was eroded after it made an alliance with the BJP to form a coalition government in 2006.
On the condition of anonymity, a prominent Muslim leader of the community, who was privy to those meetings, said that, “Mr. Kumaraswamy has promised that if the Muslims turn towards JD(S); he will ensure that five cabinet berths will be reserved for Muslims. Along with it, 35 to 40 MLA tickets will be given to Muslims and, 2-4 MLC seats, and chairmanship of seven boards will be allocated to the members of the community.” He adds, “socially, the JD(S) has promised that, they will make efforts to stop the victimisation of Muslims in the name of terrorism, and bring in several schemes for the poor students of the minority community”.
Says Syed Shafiullah, state vice president of JD(S), “Muslims have shown a substantial shift towards the JD(S), and even the backward classes are disenchanted with the BJP for allowing the domination of Lingayats and not giving room for other castes.” In the past four years, the Congress has failed to address any of the issues concerning Muslims. While they are the largest opposition party in the state, they did not even raise a finger on issues like the Cow slaughter bill, attacks on the minority or on the issue of saffronisation of education. “Though our party had to form an alliance with the BJP to avoid being perished by Congress, our leaders are making sincere efforts to amend the mistake,” he adds.
While political observers agree that the Muslim voters are disenchanted with the Congress, they are however not convinced that the UP model adopted by JD(S) would work in their favour. To begin with, observers point out, unlike the Yadavs in UP, JD(S) doesn’t have a pan state presence. They are mostly restricted to four districts of the state (Hassan, Tumkur, Bangalore rural and Mandya) where the bulk of their Vokkaliga vote base is. Qazi Arshad Ali, editor of an Urdu newspaper in north Karnataka points out, the party has no presence in south and northern parts of the state. Even if they contest, he says, there will be division of secular votes at best. However, Qazi says, “Muslims who are angry with congress and backward classes who want to defeat BJP might vote for JD(S).”
Political columnist Shiv Sunder says, “the JD(S) may manage to get some seats with the combination of Vokkaligas, Muslims and Madiga dalits. But the backward class may side with the BJP. Or if Yeddyurappa flouts a party might go with him.”
The reason for it, he says, is that the BJP in the past four years has made inroads into the backward castes through conventions and forming separate commissions for many of the backward castes. He cites the case of the Lambanis, Tigadas and Ganigas who were given Rupees 10 crores each to form their own commissions. In 2008, BJP’s voting percentage was around 24 to 26%, hence they made many efforts to gain an additional 10%. The backward caste constituency is currently scarce at the moment. The JD(S) at best can gain few more seats, and in the expectant fractured mandate can be a king maker when there will be a need to foam a coalition government informs Shiv Sunder.