MANDIYA: In an election scenario where the voter appears as confused as the reporter, the one reality is the Janata Dal- Secular that will emerge from these polls with a relatively intact base that could place it in the ‘kingmaker’ position if the verdict is not decsive for either the BJP or the Congress. All along what is known as the JD(S) belt, the voters came out to profess full support for the party with at least 50 seats --Old Mysuru, Mandya, Hassan belt---where it is in direct fight with the Congress, and where the BJP does not exist.

The JD-S has 40 seats in the last Assembly largely from this belt. And has held on to its base as a visit to the region confirmed. In fact JD-S supporters were vocal, enthusiastic and constituency after constituency insisted that the party was going to emerge a winner. Some were frank, and said that perhaps not in Karnataka but definitely in this belt. Others were adamant that HD Kuruswamy would be the Chief Minister in a coalition government. With whose help, BJP or Congress? On this the wily Karanataka voter was not going to hedge a bet. The response was either just a smile or a “either.”

Clearly the JD-S propaganda in the region is that the party will emerge the king maker and then take a decision, in what “will be a coalition government” about its alliances. This the voters said was definite, with whom immaterial.

It was interesting to find that the JD-S candidates have held on to the goodwill and do not seem to be suffering from constituency backlash of any kind. In fact while Chief Minister Siddaramaiah has Varuna, the constituency he has given to his son in this region, backing him to the hilt he is not finding it easy to win over the determined JD-S voters in his own constituency Chamundeshwari who told The Citizen that they would not switch loyalities from their own sitting MLA from this constituency.

The JD-S that is clearly not reduced to a cipher in these polls is now giving the BJP cause for worry. The BJP that had been fairly complacent about the JD-S support seems to be getting cold feet now insofar as this essentially regional party is concerned. Reports that the Gowda led party had reached a tacit understanding with the BJP for the polls had spread across the state with the Congress giving credence to it with statements alleging the same. The perception was strengthened by the BJP refusal to attack the JD-S through the campaign, until now.

The first indication that all was not well came a couple of days ago from a local BJP leader Shantaram who in response to a question from this reporter, said that the JD-S was winning 30 seats but the number had dropped now to 20 or even less. Prime Minister Narendra Modi followed this a day later with his first attack on JD-S insisting that the party had reached a secret understanding with the Congress party. It is clear that if the party secures 40 plus seats---its leaders insist the tally will be over 60 seats although this seems a little too optimistic---it will be cutting into the BJP vote as in most of the winnable seats its fight is directly with the Congress party. And secondly, if it emerges with a 40 plus tally it could shift its weight towards the Congress, despite the animosity between Chief Minister Siddaramaiah and Gowda.

The reason for this, according to insiders is one. The JD-S has tied up with parties like the Bahujan Samajparty, the Nationalist Congress party and even the Samajwadi party in days reminiscent of the United Front era where similar alliances had cobbled together a government at the centre. For a brief while HD Deve Gowda was the Prime Minister of this coalition. BSP chief Mayawati held several rallies in Karnataka yesterday with Kumaraswamy, and Gowda. All three parties in coalition here have taken a strong anti-BJP position in their respective states, in what is now a run up to the general polls. And none of them will be able to justify support for the JD-S if it moves into government with the BJP in Karnataka.

So interestingly, as the election campaign heats up in Karnataka, reports that the JD-S is now leaning more towards the Congress than the BJP are making the rounds. Insofar as the Congress is concerned, its strategy will depend on the final results. If Siddaramaiah wins a clear round there will of course be no problem insofar as the Congress party is concerned in making him the CM. But if he does not, and the JD-S indeed emerges as the kingmaker on the side of the Congress party, indications that it is open to examining positions for Kumaraswamy to begin with are available already in the political corridors of the state.

In fact after a hostile beginning, the Congress has shifted track to a more kindly approach towards JD-S a week before the polls. This reporter asked Congress leader Manish Tiwari about Gowda at a press conference in Bengaluru but he did not bite the bait, and refused to criticise the JD-S. Again a shift from the earlier attack by the Congress that had accused the smaller party of a secret understanding with the BJP, a charge that the latter is making now.

The BJP insists there is anti-incumbency in Karnataka but little is visible in the constituencies where even sitting MLAs in this belt seem to have retained the support of the people. The sitting JD-S MLA from Chemundeshwari G.T.Deve Gowda remains very popular amongst the 60% plus voters from his community who made it very clear to The Citizen team that there was no question of shifting loyalties to the Chief Minister. Siddaramaiah is clearly relying on the SC/ST and other vote, including sections of the Lingayats but this is not a cake walk for him. The popularity of MLA Gowda has cut into his support base making this an uncertain constituency for him.