The “Natak” in Karnataka

Things have turned to such an extent because of the absence of leaders of stature in the central leadership; the BJP seems to be its own worst enemy

It’s not only in Karnataka that the Chief Ministers are asserting themselves. Things are not better in Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh

The BJP has never missed an opportunity to say that Dr Manmohan Singh is the weakest Prime Minister the country has ever had. Ironically, its own record in dealing with regional satraps is proving that it is no paragon of strength or character itself. The drama that has been unfolding in Karnataka has presented it in ever-worsening light. The common factor all along has been strong man B S Yeddyurappa, BSY as he is called, who while proving his own clout has exposed the weaknesses of the central leadership of the party like never before. True, it is he who first won Karnataka for the BJP in 2008, its first state in southern India. But he has made the party eat humble pie in return many a time.

First, he made a mockery of the party’s avowed clean image last year by clinging to the Chief Minister’s chair despite the serious allegations of corruption against him. He then exposed the party to further ridicule in August by forcing it to hand over power to his proxy, DV Sadananda Gowda, so that he could keep the seat warm for him. He has now embarrassed the party further by forcing it to replace Gowda with his own nominee, Rural Development and Panchayati Raj Minister Jagadish Shettar. 

The change at the top has been ostensibly brought about so that the party goes to the polls next year under a Lingayat leader, but that hardly fools anybody. The real motive is only to ensure that a rubber stamp of BSY is in command. However, whether the party will remain in command in the state during the next elections is now under serious doubt. It is already being ridiculed as the Bari Jagala Party, which in Kannada means the party of only infighting and the Bari Jollu Party (brittle or empty). Quite a climbdown for the party in the state which was supposed to be its showcase down South. 

Strangely enough, when BSY was forced to resign as Karnataka Chief Minister last year after being indicted in the illegal mining cases by the state Lokayukta, Shettar had thrown his hat in the ring as a natural replacement, being a fellow Lingayat leader. But BSY did not want to risk propping up another power centre from his own community. So Gowda, a Vokkaliga, was picked to be the Chief Minister by BSY. He retained all ministers of BSY on taking over in August. Obviously, BSY, who thought that he would be absolved of all charges soon enough, called the shots.

But things started to sour soon enough. On the one hand, a CBI probe was ordered against BSY earlier this year and on the other, Gowda tried to lose the tag of being a rubber stamp. He reneged on his promise of vacating the post when Yeddyurappa walked out of Bangalore Central Jail. 

A miffed Yeddyurappa engineered the resignation of nine ministers, including Shettar, demanding that Gowda be removed. In politics, there are no permanent friends or enemies. Shettar, who was sidelined last year, was the blue-eyed boy of BSY this year. The BJP instead of standing up to this bullying, succumbed tamely once again, much to the discomfiture of principled elements in the party, and other constituents of the NDA. Mr Sharad Yadav, who heads the Janata Dal (United), a key BJP ally, admitted as much: “The NDA is in loss, and Sadananda Gowda has been martyred, but their party, and our party are different and it’s their own matter.” 

The rumbling has upset the RSS as well. A commentary by veteran journalist MV Kamath in the latest issue of the RSS journal Organiser says the BJP must reinvent itself. “To be taken seriously, a party must have a clear vision, a specific ideology by which one stands or falls. And just as importantly, it must be seen as a united organization that speaks in one voice. Can anyone say that of today’s BJP? What has been painfully evident is a clash of personalities and a conflict of interests that have caused distress among BJP supporters.” The BJP at least wanted to delay the change till after the presidential elections scheduled for July 19, but could not risk even that due to the fear of cross-voting by BSY supporters who are a force to reckon with. 

The sixth attempt by BSY to dislodge Gowda thus bore fruit. One puppet was replaced by another and Karnataka had to witness the sorry spectacle of seeing its third Chief Minister in less than a year. The only saving grace this time has been that the amiable Gowda has bowed out gracefully and without any fuss. Had he stuck to the post the way BSY did last year, the plight of the BJP would have been even worse.

This was not the first time that the party had capitulated abjectly. It remained silent when BSY used highly questionable means and poached legislators from other parties under Operation Lotus. Last year, it writhed pathetically while trying to secure his resignation following serious corruption charges. The “party with a difference” had fared no better while tackling the mine-rich Reddy brothers. The end result was that it left itself wide open to the criticism that it did not follow what it preached on moral values, scams and corruption. 

Lingayats comprise more than 17 per cent of the 65 million population of Karnataka and have been supporting the BJP. Indeed, having a Lingayat Chief Minister makes sense, but not in the backdrop of acute corruption and maladministration. At the same time, the unseemly ouster of Gowda may not go down well with the Vokkaligas, in spite of the grant of key posts to him and another Vokkaliga leader R Ashok, Home Minister, and Kuruba leader KS Eshwarappa, the party’s state president. They comprise the second largest group with about 15 per cent of the population. 

It’s not only in Karnataka that the Chief Ministers are asserting themselves. Things are none the better in Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh. Narendra Modi showed similar inflexibility when he pushed party president Nitin Gadkari into dumping Sanjay Joshi from the top echelons of the party. Even if some electoral gains are made in Karnataka — if at all — these may be more than offset by the likely fallout of the ugly 

drama on the party’s fortunes at the national level. 

Things have come to such a pass because of the absence of leaders of stature in the central leadership. Gadkari is no patch on stalwarts like Atal Bihari Vajpayee and LK Advani. The latter reportedly expressed his unhappiness over the Karnataka happenings but that was about all. That makes a huge dent in the party’s claim to provide a national alternative. The intransigence shown by Modi during the Gujarat riots was bad enough. The open defiance by men like BSY has forced the public to revise its opinion about the BJP being a principled party. It has been routed fair and square in Uttar Pradesh. In Gujarat, Keshubhai Patel is set to form his own party and challenge Modi. 

Even the best wordsmiths would be hard put to downplay or explain away the combined debilitating effect of these incidents.


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Copyright © 2013 Amar Chandel