Uneasy calm after BJP storm

Dissent in state : A political leadership race should not only be fair, it must also be seen to be fair

Till about two months ago, Karnataka chief minister B S Yeddyurappa was sitting pretty and contented. After all, he was the tallest BJP leader south of Vindhyas. Having led the party to a resounding victory in the Assembly elections in 2008, he had also given the BJP the maximum number of seats in the Lok Sabha polls in May 2009, earning the admiration and gratitude of the central leaders of the party. Yeddyurappa was beginning to believe that he was the unquestioned leader and was settling down to enjoy untrammelled powers as chief minister for the rest of his term.

But, in late September and October, nature unleashed unprecedented fury in the form of torrential rain and floods on much of north Karnataka, posing his government a huge challenge. Never shy of hard work, Yeddyurappa plunged into a massive relief and rehabilitation work. Even as the chief minister was busy trying to bring succour to thousands of families of flood victims, he was hit by a political storm last fortnight, quite suddenly and unexpectedly.

As Yeddyurappa has been forced to, at least temporarily, abandon the battle against nature’s ravages and scurry between Bangalore and Delhi to douse the raging dissidence against his leadership, the question arises as to what really went wrong and how. Where did the chief minister err that within such a short span of time he had turned from a hero to a villain.

Faultlines

Reasons may be many and varied, but it appears that there are major faultlines in the chief minister’s personality and style of functioning as well as the structure and composition of the party as it has evolved over the years, which contributed to the sudden explosion.

 Over the last 18 months that he has been in power, there has been a simmering discontent in the party and the Cabinet that Yeddyurappa had concentrated all the powers in his hands and was acting all on his own with the help of a small coterie of trusted colleagues and officials.

 In the Cabinet formation he mostly had his way, forcing fellow Lingayat leader Jagadish Shettar to accept Speakership, propping up another ‘imported’ Lingayat Basavaraj Bommai as an alternative leader from north Karnataka and also effectively sidelining K S Eshwarappa, a former state party president, with a minor portfolio.
As his party had fallen short of majority by three seats in the 2008 Assembly polls, he used the financial clout of the mining tycoons, the Bellary Reddy brothers, to woo some five independents to join the ministry and also launch the ‘Operation Lotus’ to get some MLAs from other parties to defect to the BJP.

The BJP legislators, some of them pretty seniors in the party, were already unhappy that Yeddyurappa had ignored their claims for ministership and had inducted independents into the Cabinet. They had been asked to ‘sacrifice’ for the sake of stability of the government.

Perhaps they would have understood Yeddyurappa’s compulsions had they been compensated in some other ways, just as other chief ministers had done in the past, notably Devaraj Urs, Ramakrishna Hegde and J H Patel. The charge against Yeddyurappa is that he not only ignored them, but tried to promote his ‘caste brethren’ at the cost of party faithfuls.

Growing unease

The most glaring examples were the induction of Umesh Katti and V Somanna into the Cabinet after getting Bellubbi and Nagaraj Shetty to be unceremoniously dropped from the ministry.

There was already a sense of unease in the Cabinet that the ministers hardly had any freedom and they could not take any decision without being cleared by the CM’s secretariat. They were being forced to approach the CM’s powerful principal secretary V P Baligar, who would only act as per the instructions of the chief minister and his ‘kitchen cabinet,’ which included Minister Shobha Karandlaje and CM’s sons, Raghavendra and Vijayendra.

Yeddyurappa’s long term associates like Katta Subramanya Naidu, R Ashok and  Suresh Kumar, among others, felt a sense of isolation and it was perhaps Somanna’s entry that widened the fissures within the government. Somanna was a direct threat to Naidu and Ashok’s hold over Bangalore city and it is alleged that they worked actively in defeating Somanna in the byelection.

In their eagerness to consolidate power and “rule for the next 10 years,” Yeddyurappa and his party seem to have committed many blunders for which they are now paying a price. The most notable was to open the party doors for defectors from other parties at the time of elections, when it could have easily fielded its own candidates with commitment and long-term association.

The BJP failed to realise that it was riding a sympathy wave after being ‘betrayed’ by the JD(S) and there was a sense of hurt among the majority Lingayat community as their latest mascot Yeddyurappa had been unseated within seven days of assuming power. In every election since 1983, the discerning voters of Karnataka have indulged in a series of experiments and they were ready to give the BJP a chance to rule.

Power punch

Another cardinal sin committed by Yeddyurappa was to allow the Reddy brothers to splurge their ill-gotten wealth during the elections. They reportedly financed around 150 candidates and earned the ‘gratitude’ of many who made it to the victory post.
Perhaps Yeddyurappa has also become a ‘victim’ of power politics between the “Delhi-based leaders” of the BJP and the RSS. Yeddyurappa still enjoys the support of the RSS, but the  sympathy that Reddy brothers seem to have got from the national leaders, indicates that the CM is not going to get out of the current mess easily.

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