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On the back foot

Published : Jun 15, 2012 00:00 IST

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An FIR that the CBI filed on May 15 pushes dissident BJP leader and former Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa into a tight corner.

in Bangalore

FORMER Karnataka Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa, who was until a year ago the poster boy for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has been pushed into a tight corner yet again. On May 15, following an order of the Supreme Court, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) registered a first information report (FIR) against him, his two sons and a son-in-law, a businessman and a mining company, in a Special Court in Bangalore. Despite some posturing in recent weeks to get himself reinstated after the Karnataka High Court quashed a portion of the Lokayukta report indicting him in a mining scam for which he had to demit office in July last Yeddyurappa is fully aware that the support he has among the politically, socially and economically dominant Lingayat community to which he belongs and the voters will go up in smoke if he precipitates a crisis and leaves the party now. There is also no clear indication even to him whether a large section of the BJP legislators will desert the party and join him should he choose to do so. Hardly a quarter of the 70-odd legislators whose support he has been claiming turned up on May 18 when he opened his public contact office in Bangalore.

In recent weeks, lambasting his party's central leadership for not supporting him as he waded from one crisis to another, Yeddyurappa threatened to leave the party along with his supporters. He repeatedly accused senior BJP leaders from Karnataka of trying to destroy him politically and even did the unthinkable by praising Sonia Gandhi, president of the Congress, which is his party's biggest adversary. In a bid to put pressure on the BJP leadership to come to his aid, he got nine Ministers in his successor D.V. Sadananda Gowda's Cabinet to submit their resignations to him and threatened the survival of the BJP dispensation in Karnataka, made overtures to the Congress and even accused Sadananda Gowda of hobnobbing with the BJP's political rivals, most notably with Janata Dal (Secular) president H.D. Deve Gowda.

But all his antics seem to have been to no avail. Neither the party nor the religious pontiffs of the Lingayat sect, who still see him as the community's tallest political leader, stuck their necks out to espouse his cause. Polite noises were indeed made about the need to respect a senior leader, but nothing close to Yeddyurappa's demand that he be reinstated as Chief Minister. On May 20, former BJP president Rajnath Singh reflected the party leadership's thinking on Yeddyurappa's reinstatement when he said, Where is the vacancy? D.V. Sadananda Gowda is our Chief Minister in Karnataka. Reacting angrily to Rajnath Singh's statement, Yeddyurappa, who in the past year had been mouthing belligerent threats at one instance and his avowals of loyalty to the party the next, said that he had never clamoured for any party position or the Chief Minister's post.

Yeddyurappa spent the better part of his three years as Chief Minister fighting dissidence, primarily from disgruntled legislators wanting ministerial berths, the mining barons of Bellary who aspired for more autonomy and higher offices, and a section of the party which owes its allegiance to H.N. Ananth Kumar, the BJP's national general secretary and Yeddyurappa's bete noire.

Yeddyurappa was removed from the Chief Minister's post last July after the Karnataka Lokayukta (ombudsman), in its report on the multi-crore illegal iron-ore mining scam, recommended criminal proceedings against him under the Prevention of Corruption Act. He got a reprieve on March 7 when a Division Bench of the Karnataka High Court rejected a portion of the Lokayukta report on illegal mining that accused Yeddyurappa of corruption in granting mining leases to two companies and invalidated the sanction given (in January 2011) by Governor H.R. Bhardwaj to prosecute him on the basis of the report. It also quashed the FIR registered against him by the investigation wing of the Lokayukta police.

Feeling piqued

Buoyed by the court's verdict, Yeddyurappa, who claimed that BJP president Nitin Gadkari had promised to reinstate him if his name was cleared, has been demanding the same. Then came the CBI's latest FIR on May 15. Yeddyurappa has also been saying that it was he who installed Sadananda Gowda as Chief Minister and that the latter had promised to step down once his name was cleared. He is piqued that this has not happened.

Said a senior Minister: There was a gentlemen's agreement between the two, but Sadananda Gowda has now chosen to say that it is up to the central leadership [of the BJP] to take a call. For the central leadership, trying as it is to embarrass the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government on various corruption charges, a charge of corruption levelled against one of its own Chief Ministers is untenable. That is why Yeddyurappa was removed in the first place. He can't be reinstated until he comes out clean.

Minister for Agriculture Umesh V. Katti, who was among those who submitted their resignations to Yeddyurappa, said that it was for the BJP's central leadership to decide what to do. Katti and other Ministers loyal to Yeddyurappa are angry with Sadananda Gowda and BJP State party president K.S. Eshwarappa for writing letters to the central leadership accusing them of getting involved in anti-party activities. They wanted Sadananda Gowda to convene a meeting of the BJP legislature party to discuss the issue. But the Chief Minister has steadfastly refused to do so.

When the Chief Minister writes that he has no faith in us, why should we continue? asked Katti. He said they had submitted their resignations to Yeddyurappa and not the Chief Minister since the former was their leader. Katti said that both the party's central leadership and the Chief Minister had asked them not to press for their resignations. He added that BJP national general secretary Dharmendra Pradhan, who recently visited Bangalore and elicited the views of the rival camps, had said that some decisions would be taken to resolve the crisis.

Yeddyurappa has accused Ananth Kumar of hatching conspiracies and creating confusion in the State unit of the party, of desperately wanting to become the Chief Minister himself, and of poisoning the ears of national leaders like L.K. Advani against him. He also accused Eshwarappa of vendetta politics. When this correspondent spoke to Eshwarappa, all that he was prepared to say was: Let the central leadership take any decision on Yeddyurappa.

The party has to take a call if it wants to hold on to the Lingayat vote, which has been its mainstay and catapulted it to power in the State in May 2008.

But will it? Past record shows that the euphoria of attaining power for the first time in a southern State had hampered the BJP from taking tough decisions against Yeddyurappa and disciplining the mining barons of Bellary. If that record is anything to go by, nothing much can be expected from the leadership. For now, the party, which calls itself the party with a difference, will limp along and continue to suffer irreparable damage until the elections, which are hardly 12 months away.

(This story was published in the print edition of Frontline magazine dated Jun 15, 2012.)

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