At every major rally, Janata Dal (Secular) Party President HD Kumaraswamy deploys one major strategy to entice farmers – he promises to waive their loans, while steering the conversation away from the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Hindutva agenda and the issue of a separate Lingayat religion.
The ruling Congress government has not taken any risk regarding the farmers’ vote bank and has promptly waived off farm loans for two consecutive years. The JD(S) is now promising one thing that the Siddaramaiah-led government could not do – to waive farm loan incurred in rashtriya banks.
“There were farm loans to the tune of Rs 42,000 crore in the state, of which the Siddaramaiah government has waived off Rs 18,861 crore. Kumaraswamy is banking on the fact that he would be elected to power based on this promise alone. Farm loan waiver and the work the JD(S) has done for the people in the state regarding water management and water disputes are the party’s main strategies. Kumaraswamy wants to be seen as a leader of the farmers,” a JD(S) source says.
However, one of the major reasons why the JD(S) has been campaigning aggressively for farmers issues this time around is simply because the party, despite multiple efforts, lacks political mileage in the northern parts of Karnataka.
“North Karnataka is prone to drought and most farming activity in this region has taken a hit as the state has witnessed four drought years. Hence, Kumaraswamy had set up residence in Hubballi a year-and-a-half-ago to snare voters who had once trusted the Janata Dal before it split. In his campaign, one can see that he talks about how Deve Gowda had helped in the construction of dams and helped farmers in his time, while also pointing out that the national parties had ruined the lives of farmers,” a JD(S) leader says.
The JD(S) was formed in 1999 and, around the same time, the party’s influence in north Karnataka began dwindling. Insiders say that the people were tired of the infighting in JD(S), which had led to unfulfilled promises, ultimately leading to a breach of trust. Party sources say that the people are still reluctant to consider JD(S) as an option.
“Janata Dal was very powerful in Karnataka until 1996 when Deve Gowda expelled Veerendra Hedge and SR Bommai. These men were the most prominent leaders in the north Karnataka region and had a mass following like no other. The perception remained that Deve Gowda and his party men did not care about the people of north Karnataka. Deve Gowda was seen as the CM of south Karnataka, depriving the upper regions of any development because most of his sops were doled out to the Vokkaligas. Even now, the scars of the nasty infighting remain and people are afraid to trust the JD(S),” party sources say.
With time, the party only incurred more losses in the region and is now facing the threat of being called a party of Vokkaligas. In the 2004 Assembly elections, the party had won 17 seats in north Karnataka; the numbers fell severely in the 2008 and 2013 polls with JD(S) only winning 8 and 6 seats respectively. Out of these, six MLAs from north Karnataka, Lingasuguru MLA Manappa Vajjal and Raichur MLA Shivaji Patil joined the BJP.
JD(S) has tried to step up its campaign with Kumaraswamy going door-to-door and reacquainting himself with the people of the region. However, a major setback for the party was that it was unable to lure certain Congress candidates it was hoping to – now, it must make do with its existing choices.
On February 17, the party announced a list of 150 candidates, including 20 candidates from the Bahujan Samaj Party and seven from Nationalist Congress Party. Insiders say that of all the candidates given tickets in north Karnataka, only four leaders are strong enough to for the party to dream of being victorious.
“Kumaraswamy has confidently said that his party will win 40 seats in the region, but the truth is there are only four strong leaders here. Hanumanth Mavinamarad from Rona in Gadag, AS Patil from Devana Hipparagi in Vijayapura, Shankar Malagi from Bailahongalu in Belagavi and Amin Reddy from Shahpura in Yadagiri are the only strong candidates. Besides, two MLAs from JD(S), who were heavyweights in the northern part of the state, have left to join the BJP. That’s why the farm loan waiver issue is of severe importance and that’s why Deve Gowda himself has been campaigning for the Mahadayi issue,” a JD(S) source said.
The party is also planning to break the Dalit votes in order to gather a handful of seats in the region by batting a combination of BSP and NCP candidates.
“JD(S) has been trying to build up the Dalit vote bank for this election. It is a long way ahead, but for now, breaking the existing Dalit vote bank, which is split between the Congress and BJP, is what the party is aiming for. Deve Gowda, for his part, has only been attacking Siddaramaiah, but not the Congress or the BJP because there are possibilities of forming an alliance with one of the parties. This is to be decided as several leaders want an alliance with the BJP, while others are vehemently opposed to it,” the JD(S) source added.