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Has Prajwal case exposed rift in JD(S)?

By, Bengaluru
May 11, 2024 07:37 AM IST

Former Karnataka CM HD Kumaraswamy's response to sexual harassment accusations against JD(S) MP Prajwal Revanna reveals power struggles within the party.

Amid the sexual harassment case involving Janata Dal (Secular) MP Prajwal Revanna, former Karnataka chief minister HD Kumaraswamy’s response has shed light on deeper tensions within the party.

Initially calling for a thorough investigation into his nephew’s actions, Kumaraswamy later distanced himself from the Revanna family (ANI)
Initially calling for a thorough investigation into his nephew’s actions, Kumaraswamy later distanced himself from the Revanna family (ANI)

Initially calling for a thorough investigation into his nephew’s actions, Kumaraswamy later distanced himself from the Revanna family. He instead shifted focus to questioning the motives behind the leak, accusing Congress leader and deputy chief minister DK Shivakumar of orchestrating the leak and even making an emotional plea about the scandal’s impact on his father and former prime minister HD Deve Gowda.

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However, party insiders indicated these moves may be more about the party’s survival than familial concerns, hinting at an underlying power struggle within the regional political landscape.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a close associated of Kumaraswamy quoted him as saying that it appeared that Deve Gowda was more supportive of Prajwal than Nikhil (Kumaraswamy’s son).

“The senior Gowda also had a soft corner for HD Revanna and his children. Even though Kumaraswamy has been running the regional party, Revanna still has control of the politics of Hassan because he has his father’s blessings,” said the leader.

With HD Deve Gowda ailing and even Kumaraswamy struggling with health issues, getting the third generation of the family into the thick of politics has been a focus point over the past few years. Kumaraswamy’s son Nikhil and Revanna’s son Prajwal are the two main contenders in the race.

While the struggle for power within the party has been behind closed doors for several years, the first visible rift emerged in 2013 during the assembly elections. Kumaraswamy’s wife Anitha and Revanna’s wife Bhavani both sought to contest the polls, but only Anitha was granted a ticket, leaving Bhavani sidelined. This pattern repeated in 2018, when Anitha contested and won from Ramanagara assembly constituency, a seat vacated by her husband, while Bhavani was once again denied the opportunity.

“In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Deve Gowda’s decision to step aside from Hassan to allow his grandson Prajwal Revanna to contest was a conscious decision to mend familial fences. But this decision led to Kumaraswamy to push his son Nikhil into politics,” said a JD(S) legislator close to the party’s first family, on condition of anonymity.

“Since Nikhil lost the elections in 2019 against Sumalatha and Prajwal won the election, there was a power tilt. Nikhil losing the assembly elections made Prajwal politically strong,” the leader added.

While internal power struggles were contained within the family, tensions surfaced openly when Revanna’s sons Prajwal and Suraj questioned Kumaraswamy’s authority in the party. The trigger was Kumaraswamy’s decision to deny Bhavani a ticket in the 2023 assembly elections, despite her aspirations for the Hassan seat.

Revanna’s elder son Suraj was the first to challenge Kumaraswamy. He said the decisions regarding Hassan are the prerogative of Deve Gowda and HD Revanna, not Kumaraswamy’s. Prajwal echoed this sentiment, adding that Bhavani contesting from the seat was important for reclaiming the seat.

The discontent was a result of perceived favouritism shown towards Kumaraswamy’s family since Anitha was allowed to become an MLA, while Nikhil was made president of the JD(S) youth wing.

“Since Nikhil is yet to win an election, another victory for Prajwal (in 2024) would have changed the power dynamics in Revanna family’s favour, but the sexual harassment case has now effectively started the political downfall of this family. Even if they come out of a case, rebuilding their political influence will be hard with all the bad PR,” said a former IAS officer, who had worked closely with the Gowda family, on the condition of anonymity.

Muzaffar Assadi, political theorist and a former professor of political science at the University of Mysore, however, pointed out that the sexual harassment case would not just be a Revanna family problem but a JD(S) problem. “The USB drives have not become a state and even a nationwide issue. It will certainly have an impact on Mandya and other parts of the state. So, Kumaraswamy has a hard task of saving the party from the scandal, which will be high on his list,” he added.

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