Bengaluru: The day Congress president Rahul Gandhi arrived in Tumkur district with a dozen top leaders of Karnataka Congress, just 60 km away from the district headquarters, HD Kumaraswamy was campaigning under the scorching April sun.
Kumaraswamy was all alone and there were no leaders with him. But the crowd was much bigger than the one which gathered for Rahul Gandhi. Kumaraswamy’s rally was lacking in glamour and technology associated with the ruling Congress and opposition BJP. But what he lacked in glamour and technology was compensated in the form of public support.
In Karnataka politics, Kumaraswamy is a lone ranger. The third son of former prime minister HD Deve Gowda, Kumaraswamy is ‘Kumaranna’ for all in state politics.
Kumaraswamy became Karnataka chief minister in a midnight family coup in early 2006, toppling the Congress-JD(S) coalition government in the state. He ruled in alliance with the BJP for 20 months and was known as the most accessible chief minister the state had seen in 40 years.
After it lost power in 2008, the JD(S) has not been able to make a comeback either in the state or at the Centre. The JD(S) cadre are getting impatient and Kumaraswamy knows that if he loses this time, perhaps it will be the end of the road for him.
The Gowda clan is getting ready for the final battle and father Gowda has appointed him as the general.
Till two months ago, the ruling Congress and the main opposition BJP were under the impression that the JD(S) was not going to give them a fight at all. But all that has changed now and the Congress looks nervous after seeing the public response Kumaraswamy has been getting in Old Mysore region, the stronghold of the Gowdas.
The BJP is secretly hoping for a big win for the JD(S) in this region as it will reduce the Congress’ overall tally in the state. The Congress and JD(S) are in direct contest in about 75 Assembly seats, and the Congress and the BJP are fighting each other in the rest. There are 224 seats in the Karnataka Assembly.
Kumaraswamy underwent a complicated heart surgery just five months ago and has made a quick recovery, hitting the streets and eyeing a kingmaker role after the elections. Even though his fragile health won’t allow him to travel or talk much, he is crisscrossing the state in a specially designed bus, addressing a few public meetings and holding some corner meetings.
In the Gowda heartland of Mysore, Hassan, Mandya, Tumkur and even in Bengaluru outskirts, his campaign has been a big hit, attracting a huge crowd. Political analysts and his rivals have taken note of it.
According to Professor C Narasimhappa, an old associate of Deve Gowda, a big mobilisation of Vokkaliga votes behind the JD(S) can result in a hung Assembly in the state, and the father–son duo is making all possible efforts to achieve that.
“Both Deve Gowda and Kumaraswamy know that it is their last chance to stay relevant in Karnataka and national politics. If the Congress retains power or the BJP comes to power, the JD(S) will become irrelevant. It will be like Ajit Singh’s RLD in Uttar Pradesh. Their only hope is a badly fractured mandate. If that happens, they can keep their flock together and drive a hard bargain with both the Congress and the BJP. Otherwise, they will be doomed because the BJP or the Congress can hijack their MLAs in case either of them cross 100 seats,” Narasimhappa said.
He added that even if Rahul Gandhi and Siddaramaiah’s allegations that JD(S) is a ‘B’ team of the BJP is true, the saffron party does not want a hung Assembly and they want the JD(S) to eat into Congress votes where the BJP is not strong.
The memories of the infamous 20-20 experiment with Kumaraswamy in 2006-2007 are still fresh in the minds of the BJP leadership and the last thing they want is yet another experiment, admit party leaders.
Speaking to News18, Kumaraswamy said he was in the race to win and not help the others. “We are nobody’s ‘B’ team. We are fighting on our own. We will come to power with a clear majority. Both the Congress and the BJP will bite the dust. Siddaramaiah is nervous and spreading such lies. Yeddyurappa has called me and my father names. Do you think we will back him?” he said.
Kumaraswamy added that there has been a big surge in favour of the JD(S) and cited “huge crowd” at his public meetings as proof. “I am more popular than Siddaramaiah and Yeddyurappa. Several independent surveys have proved that in the past. I am close to the masses and they come to see me.”
But the big crowd may not get translated into big votes for the JD(S). One of his party leaders said, “Kumaranna is like a cinema star. People come to see him because he comes across as a sincere, humble man. He is rustic. He is Deve Gowda’s son. But not necessarily all of them will vote him.”
Some state Congress leaders feel that Rahul Gandhi and Siddaramaiah should not attack the Gowdas too much as it may mobilise more votes for them. They say that instead of opening two fronts at the same time, the Congress must focus only on the BJP. They even argue that Kumaraswamy will mostly likely align with the BJP in case of a hung Assembly, using the Congress attack on him as an excuse.
But Kumaraswamy, a film producer-turned-politician, said he is confident of a win for the JD(S) and does not care about what his opponents say.