BJP's Hara-kiri

Politics of blackmail


The Bharatiya Janata Party’s ‘Mission Hara-kiri’ which began after the party’s Lok Sabha poll debacle in May 2009, continues unabated with the senior leaders of the BJP almost contriving a situation where its only government down south is on the verge of disintegration.

In a bizarre turn of events, the Yeddyurappa government in Karnataka, which was hailed for “opening the gateway to the south” not so long ago, is being wrecked from within with some tacit support from the central leaders.

After the high drama witnessed during the last fortnight when around 50 legislators rebelled against the chief minister’s ‘style of functioning,’ the party’s clumsy intervention may have allowed Yeddyurappa to save his chair for the time being, but the compromise formula worked out by the party bigwigs has nearly destroyed the government’s credibility.

In the 17 months that the BJP government has been in power, Yeddyurappa may be faulted for making a few mistakes like concentrating excessive power in his hands and not being ‘accessible’ to a large number of party legislators.

But such charges are not uncommon against a chief minister in any state and in fact, if there were to be a comparison on similar counts, perhaps Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi  fares worse than Yeddyurappa.

Money power

But unfortunately in Karnataka’s case, the Reddy brothers have been allowed to use their money and muscle power to fan dissidence at a time when the state was reeling under flood havoc and what was worse, the rebels got a sympathetic ear from the central leadership, instead of being admonished and punished for their anti-party activities.

All said and done, there’s no denying that the BJP owes its present position in Karnataka to a large extent to Yeddyurappa’s efforts and leadership qualities and if those at the helm had their priorities right and the interests of the party in mind, they wouldn’t have wasted any time in calling the Reddy brothers’ bluff.

The right approach would have been to issue a warning to all those shameless legislators holed up in 5-star comforts at Hyderabad either to return to their constituencies within 24 hours and attend to flood relief works or face disciplinary action, and also tell the Bellary mining tycoons to return with their complaints after the crisis facing the people was over.

If the Reddys did not listen, the chief minister could have been permitted to sack them from the Cabinet. In such an eventuality, it is more than likely that most ‘rebel’ legislators would have deserted them and returned to the official fold. Of course, one couldn’t discount the possibility of the Reddys’ money power holding enough legislators to destabilise the government, but it was a risk worth taking, rather than yielding to blackmail politics of the worst kind.

But, in the post-Vajpayee time, the central leadership of the BJP is so confused and spineless and perhaps, also so full of intrigue and skulduggery, that those who had no qualms about even cutting the nose to spite the face, emerged victorious.

How did the Sushma Swarajs, the Ananth Kumars, the Arun Jaitleys and Venkaiah Naidus, who were seen as skillful trouble-shooters for the party not so long ago, suddenly find that the Reddys of Karnataka were too ‘big’ to handle and hence all of them pushed for a compromise? Or, in the absence of a powerful central figure, did each one of them have his or her own agenda to pursue?

Recipe for disaster

Whatever be the truth, the ‘formula’ — whose contours are still unfolding — that the leadership has apparently rammed down Yeddyurappa’s throat is not only humiliating for him, but a clear recipe for disaster. In order to retain his chair, the chief minister has already been forced to drop his close confidante, Shobha Karandlaje from the cabinet, replace V P Baligar as principal secretary, reinstate all officers transferred out of Bellary, agree to take Shettar into the cabinet, make administrative changes as demanded by the Reddys and so on.

There are many more articulated or hidden demands of the Bellary brothers and the fear among the public is that now that Yeddyurappa has begun to bend, his detractors will not hesitate to make him crawl.

As an opposition leader said, the central leadership of the BJP has opted for a ‘coalition government’ within the BJP, replacing Yeddyurappa with ‘Reddyurappa’ as chief minister.

But, on a serious note, Yeddyurappa’s challenge here onwards will be to limit the damage, resist unreasonable demands, rebuild trust with his own legislators and strike at his detractors at the opportune time.

The strength of Yeddyurappa’s resolve will be known if he is able to save his other loyal ministers, whom the rebels are gunning for, limit the cabinet changes to just one or two, have his person of choice for the crucial post of the Speaker and continue to have the grip over the overall administration of the state.

The proposed ‘core committee’ headed by Sushma Swaraj purportedly to take all major policy and financial decisions, is another extra-constitutional monster Yeddyurappa will have to deal with deftly, until he is able to regain enough strength to make it redundant.

The choice before Yeddyurappa is very clear: Either he can take the Reddy brothers head on and fight for restoration of his authority, even at the risk of losing power or try to survive as long as possible being at the mercy of the others.

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