Apples, sapodila, pineapple, raw mango, jaggery, copra, sweet lime, tender coconut even finger millets (Ragi) — this is just a small list of the things making up the garlands with which JD(S) leader HD Kumaraswamy has been welcomed during his Pancharatna Yatre in various parts of Karnataka.
And not without reason. The party and its cadres are keen on playing up JD(S) identity as a primarily “farmers’ party”.
The JD(S), led by its legislative party chief and former chief minister Kumaraswamy, is returning to basics on some fronts and adopting new strategies on others to further its prospects in the upcoming Karnataka Assembly elections.
With Pancharatna Rathayatre, HD Kumaraswamy is spearheading the JD(S) campaign. And behind the crowds at Pancharatna Yatra is JD(S) never-before-seen or attempted election management strategies.
Social media campaigns, war rooms, political consultants
“Election campaigns previously meant that we would hold conventions, rallies or public meetings, and gather people at a venue. This time, we have broken away from that and are instead going to people directly via the Pancharatna Rathayatre,” said Prathap Kanagal, spokesperson and state president of the JD(S) IT Wing.
The party has put in place a well-staffed social media cell for online campaigns and digital volunteer communications too. Much like the BJP and the Congress, the JD(S) has also on-boarded a specialised election management and consultancy team this time around.
“We carry out ground surveys to assess the mood of voters, approval ratings of candidates, incumbent MLAs, and aspirants — from the JD(S) as well as other parties. We also have a feedback system in place to assess the impact of the party’s campaigns, including the Pancharatna Yatre. There is a constant monitoring system in place. All this data helps in strategising for the election — from candidate selection to targeted outreach,” a senior member of the JD(S) political consultancy team told South First.
Interestingly, many among the professionals handling the JD(S) poll campaign had worked for the BJP in the 2018 Assembly elections. But using ground surveys to ideate poll strategies is not new to JD(S) — just long-forgotten.
Kumaraswamy’s father and former prime minister HD Deve Gowda was among the first politicians to use ground survey data by psephologists in the 1990s to strategise poll campaigns. In that sense, JD(S) has simply gone back to basics, except in this election, HD Kumaraswamy has deployed it on a large scale.
Kumaraswamy is star of JD(S) campaign
HD Kumaraswamy has consciously made himself the face of JD(S) election campaign this time around — within the party and outside. He is single-handedly touring the state, coordinating with multiple teams of the party, holding discussions with legislators, volunteers, youth wing workers, and consultants.
Touching about 20-25 villages and two towns or cities in a day with the Pancharatna Yatre, Kumaraswamy has coupled it with the Grama Vasthavya — a Village Stay programme — that allows him to stay overnight in villages and interact with people from various walks of life.
“If you see the Pancharatna Yatre, you will notice that other than HD Kumaraswamy, no other leaders are prominently seen participating. That is a conscious decision so people can interact with Kumaraswamy directly without interference of local MLAs or strongmen. It is to ensure that he gets actual feedback from voters, volunteers and district cadres,” Kanagal noted.
Extending that interaction to the virtual world are the political consultancy team and social media war room. For the first time, Kumaraswamy is interacting with booth-level workers and district- and taluk-level office bearers virtually on a regular basis to keep their spirits up.
“Unlike the Congress and the BJP that have a very organised structure at the booth level, JD(S) doesn’t. Only now have we identified two-three youngsters at the booth level in constituencies where we have a fighting chance,” a member of the JD(S) political strategy team added.
While former prime minister HD Deve Gowda is part of the decision-making process, his health and age hasn’t allowed him to hit the campaign trail.
This is why Kumaraswamy has taken over. Deve Gowda’s age and health have also been used to make emotional appeals by Kumaraswamy in his public meetings, as well as to quell dissent within the party, especially within the JD(S) first family.
Using limitations to its advantage
The BJP is waiting for its manifesto to be released and Congress is announcing its pre-poll “guarantees”, but the JD(S) has already made its agenda for the election clear with its Pancharatna Yatre.
The party has come up with five promises to the people: Free education till Class 12, free health care, housing for all, employment for youth and women, and initiatives for farmers.
The Pancharatna Rathayatre, too, is a page out of Deve Gowda’s playbook — he had toured the state in 1994, enhancing JD(S) support base in Karnataka. JD(S) was the first mainstream party to hit the campaign trail fully aware of its limitations of resources, reach and leadership.
The JD(S) isn’t focusing on all 224 constituencies in Karnataka. It neither has the presence, nor leadership or resources, to do so. But the party is utilising this to its advantage by micro-targeting constituencies and communities and focused distribution of resources.
JD(S) is concentrating on its strongholds in the Old Mysuru region and segments of Hyderabad Karnataka. One would imagine that JD(S) is restricted to Bengaluru Rural, Mysuru, Hassan, Mandya, Ramanagara or maybe even Tumakuru, but the party has cadre and vote share in North Karnataka districts like Raichur, Yadgir, Vijayapura, and Bidar.
“We were surprised to see unprecedented support for the Pancharatna Yatre is regions like Honnavara and Kumta in Coastal Karnataka as well,” Kanagal said, pointing out that the party has negligable presence in the region. Whether the crowds will translate into votes is a different matter.
‘Target 100, fight 70, win 40’
With its limited resources, the party, even with its Pancharatna Yatre, is only looking to touch 100 constituencies. JD(S) is keen on putting up a fight in just 70 to 75 constituencies. Further, the party’s internal assessment shows that it has a formidable winning chance in about 40 seats.
The JD(S) is realistically looking to win just round 40 to 45 seats. In a close election or a broken mandate, these 40-45 seats are all that JD(S) needs to emerge a kingmaker and, often, when JD(S) has been kingmaker, HD Kumaraswamy becomes king.
In 2018, the JD(S) contested 200 seats and won 37 with a vote share of 18.36 percent. In 2013, JD(S) contested 222 seats and won 40 with a vote share of 20.19 percent.
This time around, JD(S) wants to increase its vote share to about 25 percent and win around 45 seats.
Towards this end, other than reiterating its image as a farmers’ party, JD(S) is playing the big Deve Gowda card among Vokkaligas and other backward classes.
CM Ibrahim as state president is also helping the party appeal to minorities and Dalits.
While the sheen of Pancharatna Yatre is wearing off in some parts of the state where it passed through last year, the JD(S) is confident of improving its vote share.
Any increase in the JD(S) vote share is a matter of concern for the Congress more than the BJP, given that the JD(S) is in direct contest with the Congress in old Mysuru region and vies for the same vote bank as that of the Congress in Kalyana Karnataka districts where there is a three-way contest between the Congress, JD(S) and the BJP.
The Congress’ worry has only increased ever since BJP has softened its attack on JD(S) and has focused its entire might only on the former. Prime Minister Narendra Modi steering clear of even invoking JD(S) during his recent Mandya visit being the case in point.
JD(S) has its problems too. From internal strife within the JD(S) first family over the Hassan seat to losing leaders to other parties, there are challenges galore. But HD Kumaraswamy has managed to assuage several such leaders, assuring them that JD(S) would emerge as kingmaker in the Assembly election.