Trouble spot

Print edition : February 22, 2013

FOR the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Karnataka, which was to have been its political springboard to conquer the south, has turned out to be a script gone horribly wrong. Having shot itself repeatedly in the foot ever since it came to power in the State in May 2008, the party finds its government tottering following the resignation of over a dozen legislators, all of whom now profess allegiance to B.S. Yeddyurappa, who, not so long ago, was the BJP’s poster boy in Karnataka but is at present its chief tormentor. If the government headed by Jagadish Shettar continues to survive, it is only because of some bizarre actions and decisions taken by the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly and the ineptitude of the opposition parties. Yeddyurappa and the opposition parties are aware of the negative impact any decision to pull the government down can have on the voters.

Shettar insists that he will present the State budget on February 8 and that his government will complete its term. But with BJP legislators leaving the party in a hurry, it could be a tall order, especially since Governor H.R. Bhardwaj has hinted on more than one occasion that he will ask the Chief Minister to prove his majority on the floor of the House before he presents the budget. Even if the BJP hangs on to power until the elections, which will have to be held before May, the writing is on the wall. The party has lost its popularity and public sympathy, and in all likelihood it will lose heavily. In 2008, it won 110 seats in the 224-member Assembly.

In a State where a large number of voters do not just cast their votes but vote their castes, the BJP may find it difficult to bank on the votes of the socially, politically and economically powerful Lingayats. Urban voters, the BJP’s another main support base, are also likely to desert the party. The exit of Yeddyurappa, unarguably the tallest Lingayat leader in Karnataka, from the BJP and the formation of the Karnataka Janata Party (KJP) by him is bound to hurt the BJP’s prospects. With Lingayats holding the key to 96 constituencies spread across the northern region of the State, BJP candidates will find the going tough.

The BJP’s foray into power in Karnataka was indeed a creditable one. There was a wave of sympathy, especially from the Lingayats, for Yeddyurappa, who had been denied a stint in the Chief Minister’s chair in 2007 by the Janata Dal (Secular). (It was agreed between the JD(S) and the BJP that H.D. Kumaraswamy would be the Chief Minister for the first 20 months, after which Yeddyurappa would become the Chief Minister for the remaining 20 months. But Kumaraswamy refused to support a Yeddyurappa government.) The BJP, led by Yeddyurappa, emerged as the single largest party in the 2008 elections. But through the infamous “Operation Lotus”, the party lured Congress, JD(S) and a few independent legislators into its fold to form the government. The Yeddyurappa government managed to survive despite several controversies. Some of its plans and programmes even promised to take Karnataka ahead in many spheres. Yeddyurappa arguably offered budgets for recovery, initiated steps for a handsome rise in resource mobilisation, waived farm loans and undertook steps to complete long-standing irrigation projects. However, the BJP’s commitment to provide good governance was brought to naught by internal battles, unbridled jockeying for power, corruption and nepotism. Yeddyurappa faced serious charges of wrongdoing but, aided by an indecisive central leadership, he refused to step down. By the time he resigned in disgrace, the image of the BJP had taken a severe beating.

The tenure of Yeddyurappa’s handpicked successor, D.V. Sadananda Gowda, was also marked by shameful public squabbling. Smarting from the party’s decision to seek his resignation and unhappy with Sadananda Gowda for not “helping” him, Yeddyurappa orchestrated dissidence against him, forcing the central leadership to jettison Sadananda Gowda and appoint Shettar (a Lingayat) the third Chief Minister in four years. But even Shettar’s appointment did not end the dissent. Yeddyurappa and a few of his supporters finally left the BJP and formed the KJP in early December.

Regional parties have never done well in Karnataka. Even mass leaders such as D. Devaraj Urs, R. Gundu Rao, Ramakrishna Hegde and S. Bangarappa hardly made any electoral impact when they floated regional parties to take on the national parties.

In a conversation with Frontline, Yeddyurappa insisted that the “time had now come for a regional force in Karnataka”, but not many think so. The KJP is likely to cut into the BJP’s votes in the Lingayat-dominated constituencies. Despite Yeddyurappa’s boast that he will win a majority, the fledgling outfit is unlikely to have any impact in urban pockets such as Bangalore and the Old Mysore areas or in the coastal areas. With no party likely to secure a majority on its own, it is evident that the KJP hopes to extend support to the Congress and strike a bargain. If the BJP’s cup of woes is brimming, the opposition parties are in no better position. As things stand now, Karnataka is likely to witness four-cornered and even multi-cornered contests, with former BJP Minister B. Sriramulu’s BSR (Badavara Swabhimani and Raitha) Congress, rebels and independents adding to the confusion.

Though the Congress is likely to benefit from the exodus from the BJP, it could actually spell trouble for the party. The Congress is already grappling with a long list of aspirants (Siddaramaiah, S.M. Krishna, M. Veerappa Moily, Mallikarjuna Kharge, N. Dharam Singh, R.V. Deshpande, to name a few) for the Chief Minister’s post. The JD(S) continues to be a party of the family of former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda. It has a presence only in the Old Mysore area. Already differences have cropped up among family members with regard to ticket distribution.

Ravi Sharma

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