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BJP’S Falling Stock

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By Syed Ali Mujtaba

Who is powerful in Karnataka, the Bharatiya Janata Party or B.S. Yeddyurappa. No marks for guessing! The former Chief Minister has ripped open the underbelly of Hindutava, muscling its way through caste matrix to expose the hollow claims of the BJP that it is a party with a difference. 

India’s main opposition party has become a laughing stock in its southern bastion, changing three Chief Ministers in four years. Two of them were put on the hot seat in less than a year by the party’s show boy, merely through arm twisting.

The BJP came to power in Karnataka in 2008, defeating Janata Dal, (secular). The credit of BJP’s victory was attributed to B.S Yeddyurappa, the leader of influential Lingayat caste, who gave the nationalist party a toe hold in south India.

Considered to be the BJP’s “tallest leader,” in Karnataka, Yeddyurappa, was made the Chief Minister, the post he held for seven days in November 2007. Every thing was smooth till last July, when the state Lokayukta Santosh Hegde’s report on illegal mining severely indicted the Chief Minister. Yeddyurappa initially resisted stepping down from the post but due to growing pressure had to make an unceremonious exit. 

Yeddyurappa’s, never say die spirit made him try control power from the back stage. He repeatedly told the party high command that he was the most powerful BJP man in Karnataka and commanded the support of more than half the BJP's MLAs in the state.
He propped up his erstwhile political rival-turned friend, Sadananda Gowda, a Vokkaliga, as his successor, and literary arm twisted the BJP to accept his candidate. Such was his insistence that the party’s central observers had to hold a secret ballot in the legislature party meeting where Gowda won with the blessings of Yeddyurappa, while his rival Jagdish Shettar lost by less than a dozen votes.

Yeddyurappa clearly saw this as a holding operation till he cleared his name and came back to claim the Chief Minister's post. However, this did not happen, and what happened was Supreme Court’s order to CBI to probe the allegation of corruption cases against him.

CBI raids followed and this triggered the already soured relationship between Gowda and Yeddyurappa. The the former Chief Minister’s loyalists accusing Gowda of playing into the hands of the opposition Janata Dal (S), Yeddyurappa now demand that a Lingayat leader should be made the Chief Minister. 

The crisis intensified when nine ministers loyal to Yeddyurappa resigned from the State Cabinet projecting a show of defiance and strength. They withdrew their resignation after the BJP’s central leadership assured them that their demand would be met.

The BJP’s core group had earlier decided to address the crisis after the Presidential poll on July 19; had to change its mind suspecting Yeddyurappa may wean a large section of the party's legislators to vote against its candidate PA Sangma.

The BJP’s decision was also due to the forthcoming monsoon session of the state assembly where the vote-on-account presented in March had to be approved.

There were differences within the BJP's central leadership on the issue of change of leadership with senior leaders like L.K. Advani opposed the idea on the ground that it would set a wrong precedent. Advani camp was of the view that it would be better for the party to face a fresh poll rather than effect a leadership change as the elections are due in less than nine months. However, the majority opinion was to allow Yeddyurappa to have his way, given his influence in the Lingayat community.

The BJP leadership finally decided to replace Sadananda Gowda with Jagdish Shettar as the Chief Minister of Karnataka. Shettar, the 56-year-old Lingayat leader was not long ago daggers drawn with Yeddyurappa, but patched up with him finding common ground in an oust-Gowda campaign.

Credit goes to Sadananda Gowda who had been extremely dignified in the face of months of rebellion and being publicly humiliated by Yeddyurappa's supporters. He did not murmur a single word against his opponents while stepping down.

However, the ouster of Sadananda Gowda was not been taken lightly by another powerful community in Karnataka, the Vokkaliga. The move was clearly seen as a pressure from the Lingayat faction demanding Lingayat supremacy ahead of the assembly election due next year. The Vokkaliga leaders held a meeting in Bangalore to chalk out their strategy after the turn of the events.

With elections due in Karnataka in less than a year, the BJP is trying to balance demands and interests of not just warring groups within the party, but also castes and communities that voted for it in the last assembly elections.

In an effort to pacify other caste groups, the BJP made former Home Minister R. Ashok, a Vokkaliga, and former Karnataka party president, K.S. Eshwarappa, from backward Kuruba community, as Deputy Chief Ministers to keep the caste arithmetic correct.

Well strange are the ways how politics is being conducted in India. At the operational level it is very different from what the political parties preach in its public discourse. Caste polarization and groupism remain the basis of group mobilization in the country. The events in Karnataka have literally defined the contours of Indian politics.

[Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at syedalimujtaba@yahoo.com]
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