Whither BJP-JD(S) alliance after Prajwal Revanna’s sexual abuse expose?

Reports from Hassan say voters, especially women, are shocked and deeply angered by the content of the leaked videos.

ByB S Arun

Published May 01, 2024 | 3:00 PMUpdatedMay 01, 2024 | 3:51 PM


The Prajwal Revanna sexual abuse case has taken Karnataka and the rest of India by storm. Perhaps it is the first time in the southern state that such an expose occurred during election time. The family of former prime minister H D Deve Gowda, whose grandson Prajwal is the MP of Janata Dal (Secular), and the BJP, its alliance partner, are undoubtedly deeply embarrassed by the appalling episode.

Prajwal is the sitting MP from Hassan, the heart of the agrarian Vokkaliga community and the stronghold of the Gowda family. The 33-year-old MP was fielded again after much opposition from the alliance partner. Two days before the Lok Sabha polling in southern Karnataka on April 26, pen drives containing sex videos purportedly showing Prajwal with close to 3,000 women surfaced (pen drives were found in parks, bus stands, etc).

The case exploded in a big way only a day after the polling as the media picked it up. While the police were lax, as they did nothing in the first three days after the videos came out, the Congress-ruled state government set up an SIT (Special Investigation Team) to probe the sleaze expose. Meanwhile, as the repugnant tale came out, Prajwal left the country.

The JD(S) was forced to react as the Congress mounted pressure. Former CM H D Kumaraswamy said his nephew should be punished if he had done anything wrong but appealed not to bring him or Deve Gowda into the picture. “We (his and his elder brother H D Revanna’s families) don’t live under the same roof. So our families are different,” he added.

On April 30, Kumaraswamy virtually blamed KPCC president and Deputy CM D K Shivakumar as the man behind the sex tapes, which the latter dismissed summarily.

Related: BJP won’t tolerate insult to women, says Amit Shah

Impact on BJP-JD(S) alliance

How will this sordid episode impact the chances of BJP-JD(S) alliance partners? Now, the first phase of polling is over. Except in Hassan, the videos initially made no noise 1-2 days before the polling. It is, however, believed that the videos will have a huge impact on Hassan’s seat. Reports say that voters, especially women, were shocked and deeply angered by the content of the videos and felt that they sullied the dignity of women and Hassan’s name.

Fourteen constituencies in the southern part of Karnataka went to polls on 26 April. The alliance partners must thank their stars that the scandal did not break 8-10 days before the polling, which could have adversely affected their chances. Southern Karnataka is the strong base of the JD(S), especially the Hassan and Mandya districts.

The regional party is a sizeable player in other constituencies such as Kolar, Chikkaballapur, Tumkur, Chitradurga, Mysore, Chamarajanagar, Udupi-Chikmagalur and all the four Bengaluru constituencies — Rural, Central, North and South. The JD(S) is contesting three seats of Mandya (Kumaraswamy), Hassan (Prajwal) and Kolar (Mallesh Babu), all in south Karnataka.

The pen drives may not make much of an impact on the next phase of elections for two reasons. One, the voting is a good one week away – scheduled for May 7; the topic may be hot now but not be a week hence. The issue may fade from public memory by the time of the next phase of polling.

Related: JD(S) suspended Prajwal 

JD(S) not a big player

Second, JD(S) is not a big player in the next phase. In this phase, 14 seats, mainly in the north Karnataka region, are going to the polls except for Shimoga, which is in the south. JD(S) did not get any seat here because it did not take root in this part except in pockets. It has pockets of influence in Chikkodi, Bidar, Bijapur, Raichur, Bellary and Davanagere seats. In some seven seats, the regional party has little or no presence: Belgaum, Bagalkot, Gulbarga, Koppal, Haveri, Dharwad and Uttara Kannada. So, the BJP may not worry much about the impact on this region.

The BJP may like to downplay the issue during the election campaign, but the Congress will certainly make a huge issue. The ruling party in Karnataka will ensure that the issue will not die down till May 7 at least. While Congress questioned the BJP’s silence on the first few days after the expose, Union Home Minister Amit Shah stated on April 30: “This cannot be tolerated”. He accused the state government of not acting on the alleged sexual abuse.

Following this, the BJP state leaders and workers felt relieved as they were finding it difficult to face the voters on the issue.

Also read: SC relief to Prajwal Revanna

Prajwal’s controversial candidature

Back to the case. In fact, the FIR names not just Prajwal but also his father, HD Revanna. The latter is the first accused (the JD(S), which held a meeting in Hubballi on April 30 and suspended Prajwal, has remained silent on his father). A former maid has filed the FIR; per reports, five more survivors have approached the SIT.

This is not the first time that Prajwal has got into trouble. Soon after his victory, his rival A Manju (then in BJP and now an MLA from JD) filed a case against the MP, accusing him of not disclosing some of the assets in his statement before the Election Commission. The Karnataka High Court, which heard the case, ruled Prajwal guilty and disqualified him from Lok Sabha. Prajwal appealed before the Supreme Court, which stayed the order and referred the case back to KHC.

The case also played a part in the local unit of the BJP opposing Prajwal’s candidature. However, Deve Gowda’s insistence finally won the day for Prajwal, and he became the official candidate of the alliance by Gowda himself in Hassan in December 2023. But despite this, local opposition to him continued. Preetham Gowda, former MLA and current BJP state general secretary, and other local BJP leaders strongly opposed giving the ticket again to Prajwal. After Prajwal became the candidate, BJP packed off Preetham, who has a good following in the district, to Chamarajanagar constituency as the campaign in charge.

Also read: Karthik gave pen drive to BJP leader

How did the pen drives surface?

How did the pen drives become public? Revanna’s family’s former driver, Karthik, spilled the beans on April 30. Karthik said he handed over the videos and photos to district BJP leader Devaraje Gowda, who contested against HD Revanna and lost by around 1,500 votes in the 2023 assembly polls. Karthik and Gowda claimed that they did not make the videos public. Gowda alleged that it was Karthik who made them public.

As the sordid saga became public knowledge, rumblings began in the regional party. Two JD(S) MLAs, Samrudhi Manjunath (Mulbagal) and Sharanagouda Kandakur (Gurumitkal) demanded action against Revanna and Prajwal. “It (the pen drive) has embarrassed the party workers. It requires proper action. Deve Gowda and Kumaraswamy should decide who’s important, whether 19 MLAs or Revanna and Prajwal,” Manjunath said.

There are also calls, rightly so, for apprehending those who distributed the pen drives. Those who did it never bothered to morph the faces of the survivors. As a result, there may be grave danger to the life/dignity of these survivors.

In the end, if Prajwal wins, it would be a rare case of a suspended member winning the polls. There may not be many such instances in electoral history.

(B S Arun is a senior journalist based in Bengaluru. Views are personal.)

(Edited by VVP Sharma)