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
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
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 email@example.com