Several MLAs are already restless over Gowda family's excessive representation in the party. Worse, patriarch doesn't have much say anymore as his sons battle it out for control.
Rumblings within household of HD Deve Gowda in the run-up to the Karnataka assembly election this year threaten to fuel a conflict within the first family of the Janata Dal (Secular), or JD(S).
The families of Gowda’s two politically active sons — H.D. Kumaraswamy and H.D. Revanna — have come out with statements against each other in the recent days, especially after Bhavani Revanna announced her candidacy for Hassan.
“In politics of Kalyug (present day), there are hundreds of Shakunis who have been misleading the children of our family, and this is why they misspoke,” Kumaraswamy said in Raichur on Saturday, playing down the news of the growing friction between the brothers in the family.
This was after assertion of Revanna’s son Suraj that Deve Gowda and his father will pick the candidate for Hassan.
“Everyone is expressing their opinion but there is no contention between us. When it comes to Hassan, Revanna and Deve Gowda will sit down and take the final decision,” Suraj, an MLC from Hassan district, had said.
By saying Kumaraswamy was “expressing his opinion”, Suraj seemed to overlook the effort the former CM was putting in the Pancharathna Yatra to mobilise support and seek a full majority for the regional outfit in the Karnataka election.
Later, Revanna clarified that Kumaraswamy would take the final decision on the party candidate for Hassan.
An aging Deve Gowda does not have much of a say anymore in party decisions even as his sons try to take control over the party. There is also growing resentment among legislators with many of them threatening to quit the JD(S) citing excessive representation of the family in the party. The Karnataka election is scheduled to take place in April-May.
In fact, JD(S) is also called appa-mukkalu (father-children) party. “JD(S) is a family factory. Daughters-in-law, sons…I don’t know who is left out unless the maids and drivers also want to stand (for elections),” a Bengaluru-based political analyst said.
All in the family
One of India’s most accomplished politicians, Gowda, 89, is forced to take a backseat at home where his two sons battle it out for control over the JD(S). His claim in December that he has the ‘final say’ in distributing B forms (official notice from the party naming the candidate) has had little effect on the feud itself.
“Our children may have said that Deve Gowda will take the final decision but is he (Gowda) in a position to take the final decision?…I have set out to win 120 seats for the party as a tribute to him (Gowda). Before he breathes his last, I want to show him that his party has survived,” Kumaraswamy said in Raichur.
Gowda has four sons and two daughters in all but thus far, it has been a two-way battle in the household. In 2019, Soumya Ramesh, wife of Deve Gowda’s other son H.D. Ramesh expressed her willingness to contest elections, but nothing came of it. Soumya is the daughter of former transport minister and Maddur JD(S) legislator D.C. Thammanna.
Revanna is a former minister, and his wife Bhavani has announced her candidacy from Hassan, limiting options for other aspirants. They have two sons — while Suraj is an MLC, Prajwal is a Lok Sabha member from Hassan.
“If Bhavani Revanna was not offered a ticket, she would have contested independently and the Gowda family would have collapsed,” a former JD(S) legislator told ThePrint.
Meanwhile, Kumaraswamy has been a two-time chief minister and has been trying to prop his actor son Nikhil in state or national politics since 2019. His wife Anita has offered to give up her Ramanagara assembly seat for their son in the coming elections.
Sources close to the family told ThePrint that Nikhil was forced to contest the 2019 Lok Sabha elections from Mandya as a pre-emptive measure against Gowda giving up his home seat of Hassan for Prajwal. Nikhil lost in Mandya.
Gowda himself met with the same fate from neighbouring Tumakuru that led to the party’s Lok Sabha representation come down from two in 2014 to one in 2019.
In 2018, Kumaraswamy announced that only he and his brother would be contesting but later gave up one of his seats (Ramanagara) for his wife in the bypolls while retaining Channapatana.
He is also believed to have scuttled attempts of Prajwal and Bhavani to contest from Rajarajeshwari Nagar, K.R. Pete and Hunsur, the JD(S) legislator cited above said.
On his part, Revanna said his brother has deciding powers on distribution of election tickets. “I am not after fielding any specific person (from Hassan). We want our party to survive. Whatever Kumaraswamy says is the final word for all of us. The final decision will be taken by Deve Gowda, Kumaraswamy, me and party state president C. M. Ibrahim,” he said at his home constituency Hole Narasipur.
The JD(S) has a significant clout in Old Mysuru region or Vokkaliga community belt that had rallied behind Gowda in the 2018 assembly elections to oppose the Siddaramaiah-led Congress government under whom the caste group nursed a feeling of neglect.
Shrinking space for JD(S)
In the last few months, several JD(S) legislators have threatened to quit, citing the Gowda family and their excessive representation in the party. In 2018, the JD(S) won 37 seats of which three MLAs defected to the BJP the next year.
Sitting MLAs K. Srinivas Gowda from Kolar and S.R. Srinivas from Belur were expelled for cross-voting in the 2021 Rajya Sabha elections. Legislators such as G.T. Deve Gowda from Chamundeshwari, K.M. Shivalingegowda from Arsikere, and A.T. Ramaswamy from Arkalgud have been hinting at moving out for months now.
The turmoil within has left the regional outfit with the uphill task of either forming a government on its own, or at least retaining its ‘kingmaker’ tag in case of a fractured verdict.
The onslaught by two national parties is not making things easier. Most of the disgruntled legislators are reportedly in talks with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), or the Congress, or both as they evaluate the next course of action in their individual interest, party workers and observers aware of the development told ThePrint.
The BJP has been aggressive in its outreach of the Vokkaligas and was able to register its first-ever victory in Mandya in the 2019 bypolls and one seat in Hassan in 2018 – both in the Vokkaliga belt, and both of which were in Gowda’s grip.
The Congress, which the JD(S) considers a bigger rival than the BJP, is also gaining ground in Old Mysuru region as Siddaramaiah is likely to return to his home seat of Varuna, according to at least two Congress legislators. Even BJP’s B.S. Yediyurappa has said Siddaramaiah will return to Mysuru as he faces defeat in any other place.
JD(S) has a considerable clout in the Vokkaliga belt, political analyst Vishwas Shetty told ThePrint. “I genuinely believe that it will be a three-horse race (in the assembly elections), and that JD(S) will have an insignificant part in terms of seats but a significant part in terms of government formation.”
ThePrint reached out to various leaders of the BJP and the Congress about their statements regarding how the rift within the JD(S) will play out for them in an election year, but is yet to get any response. The copy will be updated once their response is received.