Ever since its inception, JD(S) has won 70-80% of its seats from the region. Of the 27 seats it won in 2008, 19 came from the region (excluding Bengaluru). In 2013, the region elected 30 of the party’s 40 MLAs. Even in 2018, of the 37 seats it won, 31 were from the region. These figures demonstrate that the survival of the party hinges on the support it evokes from the Vokkaliga community.
The party has been able to keep its citadel intact largely due to the absence of BJP. In 2008, it won 19 seats, the fewest till date, despite facing a severe backlash for betraying BJP. The saffron party was too nascent in the state to capitalise on the sympathy factor. In 2013, the regional outfit benefited from the split in BJP, after former chief minister BS Yediyurappa formed Karnataka Janata Paksha.
With BJP virtually out of the fray, JD(S) emerged victorious in a direct fight with Congress. In 2018, although BJP regained some lost ground in the region by winning nine seats, JD(S) stayed afloat by capitalising on Vokkaligas’ anger against Siddaramaiah, the incumbent CM. The anti-Siddaramaiah sentiment was so strong that not only did he lose Chamundeshwari seat by over 30,000 votes to a JD(S) candidate, but JD(S) also swept Mandya and Hassan districts. “Vokkaligas voted against Congress with a vengeance,” said a Congress leader.
This time, JD(S) appears to have no such advantage. On the one hand, BJP is leaving no stone unturned to win more seats in the region, while on the other, Congress is trying to woo Vokkaligas by every means possible.
Also See: Karnataka Election 2023 | Karnataka Election Result | Karnataka Exit Polls
KPCC president DK Shivakumar has often appealed to the community saying he, a Vokkaliga, stands a chance of becoming the CM if his party gets a majority. For BJP, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union home minister Amit Shah are spearheading a ‘win Vokkaliga belt’ campaign and the party is eyeing votes of Vokkaliga youths.
“Over 200 senior functionaries of BJP have been working on the ground for the past 18 months. Going forward, we will step up our campaign with a focus on seats in urban pockets in Hassan, Mandya, Chamarajanagar, Mysuru, Kolar, and Tumakuru,” said a senior BJP MLA.
That the support base of JD(S) is shrinking outside the region is also a worrying factor. The number of MLAs from other regions fell to just six in 2018 from 11 a decade ago. The JD(S) leadership has woken up to the challenge and is taking corrective measures.
“We are worried that the aggressive campaign by BJP will split Vokkaliga votes and BJP will eat into JD(S) votes,” said a JD(S) MLA. But KA Tippeswamy, JDS M MLC, said repeated visits of BJP leaders, including Modi, to the region will have no impact on his party’s prospects. “Vokaligas and the Gowda family have an emotional connection. The community will stand by JD(S) in this election too,” he said.