HD Deve Gowda's brief tenure as Prime Minister was at the head of a Janata Dal government in 1996-97.
The Janata Dal (Secular) rebuffed an approach by Nitish Kumar to merge with his Janata Dal (United) and join the INDIA opposition bloc, party patriarch HD Deve Gowda said today, two weeks after the Karnataka outfit allied with the BJP to contest next year's general election.
Mr Deve Gowda said he was approached four months ago with a "Janata Freedom Front" proposal - to consist of ex-Janata Dal parties - but was told, "I don't agree. I am not interested in national posts... am 91 and have seen how the Congress ditched me. I don't want any experiments at this age. "
"... about three-four months back Nitish Kumar contacted me to form a front - JDU-JDS and even Samajwadi Party, with several groups of earlier Janata Dal wanted to form a Janata Freedom Front."
"Nitish sent his party president and senior leaders to persuade me... but I did not agree. I told him, 'if you feel like moving forward, then you can contact other parties'," Mr Deve Gowda said.
Nitish Kumar's JDU and the Congress are both in the INDIA bloc, as are a few other ex-Janata Dal parties, including the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Samajwadi Party.
The JDS outreach was likely part of several made to high-profile non-BJP leaders by Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar in his role as interlocutor for opposition unity ahead of the 2024 election.
Getting the JDS to come on board failed, Mr Deve Gowda seemed to indicate, due to tensions with the Congress. "They are thinking they will 'finish' JDS in Karnataka," Mr Deve Gowda told NDTV. "Congress did no talking (with the JDS about INDIA)."
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Mr Deve Gowda also had sharp words for Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, "Congress' Siddaramaiah... who I brought up in politics... said that if JDS comes, he will walk out."
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"I don't want to discuss anymore. I have suffered," he said as he chuckled over Congress MP Rahul Gandhi's 2018 jibe - that the JDS is the BJP's 'B team'. That jibe was repeated last week.
"No, RG gave 'B team of BJP certificate'. Not (just) in last election but previous one also... "
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The JDS and Congress formed the government after the 2018 election. Mr Deve Gowda's son, HD Kumaraswamy, was Chief Minister but they split soon after, after lawmakers joined the BJP.
Last month, the JDS joined the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance - in a move fiercely criticised by ex-allies Congress, which rushed to question its "secular credentials".
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The JDS was seen as nearing irrelevance after a third consecutive poor Assembly polls result; in the May election it won just 19 seats - down from 37 in 2018 and 40 five years earlier.
The Congress romped to victory in May, winning 135 of 224 seats to oust the BJP.
The BJP-JDS alliance has been questioned by some, including leaders within each party, but others see sense in allying with an outfit that still has sway in eight Lok Sabha segments and over Vokkalinga voters, including areas in which the Congress made inroads in the May poll.
Details about seat-sharing between the two have not yet been revealed. Mr Deve Gowda said these talks are to begin after Dussehra, which is on October 24. However, he was keen to underline his party remains secular and "won't take lessons in so-called secularism".
"We have enough experience... we know how to protect minorities and other marginalised sections. I don't want to make tall claims but, in 60 years of my political career, I have done it to the best of my ability. We will never let down any minority group - not just Muslims."