The JD (S) believes it needs victories in Gadag, Haveri, Belagavi, Davangere, Hubballi and Dharwad to come to power.

 For 2018 polls JD S looks to break into north Karnataka but will it be successful
news Politics Saturday, July 08, 2017 - 08:09

As the campaigns for the Karnataka Assembly polls in 2018 begin to take shape, the JD (S), which still retains some strongholds in the southern districts, is looking to up its profile across the state.

Recognising the risks of a tight battle between the Congress and the JD (S) in the south of the state, while the northern parts go with the BJP, the JD (S) is determined to expand its profile in the saffron party’s vote bases.

On Thursday, the JD(S) announced that it would hold a day-and-night dharna over the Mahadayi river waters issue at Navilutheertha and Kanakumbi in Belagavi district on July 11 and 19.

“The JD(S) is planning this dharna in order to break into the pro-BJP vote bank in the entirety of northern Karnataka. By raising the Mahadayi issue and calling for the Prime Minister to intervene, it will put the BJP in a spotlight. If the Centre does not offer a solution, it will be used against the BJP in our campaign in North Karnataka,” a JD(S) member with knowledge of the campaign, said.

For the JD (S), the look North effort is an attempt to break back into districts in which the party had enjoyed a strong presence till the mid-1990s.

Prior to 1995, JD(S) had a large voter base across various districts in Karnataka. However, the tables turned when the Idgah Maidan issue erupted, around which Hubballi witnessed communal violence.

The issue erupted as a fight between the Anjuman-e-Islam (an educational institution) and the Hubballi-Dharwad Corporation over the ownership of the Idgah Maidan, but spiraled into a larger communal conflict. The issue reached its peak when six people were killed in police firing on Independence Day in 1994.

The Janata Dal government of the time, led by HD Deve Gowda, was seen to be supportive of the Muslim stand on the issue. This, experts say, led to a backlash and a shift of Hindu voters to the BJP.  

“This became the turning point for the BJP to make inroads into the JD (S) vote bank. JD (S) was branded as a party which sided with the Muslims and the Hindus, who form the majority of the population in north Karnataka, found reason to distrust the JD(S). They lost their Hindu votes to the BJP. Ever since, they have been trying hard to break into the vote bank, which they once held,” says Political Analyst, Muzaffar Assadi.

Party insiders say that while the JD (S) is confident of winning in its southern strongholds of Mysuru, Hassan and Mandya, the key to a JD (S) victory lies in other parts of Karnataka. For JD (S) to come back to power, they say, victories are needed in Gadag, Haveri, Belagavi, Davangere, Hubballi and Dharwad.

It is with this strategic goal in mind that former Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy is currently touring Hyderabad Karnataka, says the JD (S) insider. “Kumaraswamy has rented a house in Hubballi and has been visiting areas in the Hyderabad Karnataka belt to popularise the JD (S) in these areas.”

As with the BJP, the JD (S)’s campaign will involve strong online and offline thrusts. “Booth-level committees have already been set up and a massive social media campaign – Kumaraswamy For CM –will be launched in mid-July on the Facebook page Namma HDK and also on Twitter, WhatsApp and SoundCloud,” the party insider adds.

The party had also announced in June that Kumaraswamy will carry out a door-to-door campaign titled Mane Manege Kumaranna.

“This campaign will soon kick off in various towns and cities in Karnataka,” the insider said.

He added that preparations were in full swing to kick off the statewide campaign that will be coordinated from Bengaluru. “We have a war room with a team of 50 techies already. The war room is set up in Bengaluru’s Sadashivnagar and an offensive campaign to influence public opinion in favour of Kumaraswamy has already been launched. Techies have volunteered to work in shifts to keep the campaign running 24x7. More and more people are volunteering and the campaign will kickstart in a couple of weeks,” the source added.

However, experts are of the view that even with the campaign offensive planned by the JD(S), the party has slim chances of swinging the vote in the northern districts as the party is largely seen as a supporter of Vokkaligas only.

“This becomes problematic as the Dalits feel threatened by the Vokkaligas,” says Assadi, adding that in the northern districts, the Dalit and Lingayat votes matter the most.

“The Lingayats have already pledged their allegiance to the BJP and the Congress has also launched a strong campaign in North Karnataka to gather the Lingayat votes. The minorities are still apprehensive of shying away from the Congress,” opines Assadi.

The JD (S), he predicts, cannot win more than 40 seats in the 2018 polls. “At its best, the party may become a kingmaker and side with either the BJP or the Congress to form a government,” he says.

Arguing that the JD(S) plans to spearhead the Mahadayi protest in order to win over Dalit support in the region, Assadi says that the JD (S) may have already lost the advantage on that front. The BJP, he points out, has already been targeting that population of voters with state party President Yeddyurappa’s visits to and meals in Dalit homes in the area.

“It is a given that the party will not come to power without forming an alliance. But it remains to be seen as to which party it will side with. Deve Gowda wants JD(S) to align with the Congress, while Kumaraswamy wants to side with the BJP. That is the only element of surprise the JD (S) has to offer in the upcoming election,” Assadi said.