Ritesh K Srivastava
BS Yeddyurappa, who was once the BJP’s blue-eyed boy and its tallest leader in Karnataka, is surely passing through the most turbulent times in his four-decade long political career. Hit hard by the recent Supreme Court ruling allowing a CBI probe into his alleged role in the state’s mining scam, his hopes of getting reinstated as chief minister now appear to have been dashed.
The Lingayat community leader, who is credited of building the party at the grass-root level and establishing its first government down South, is now locked in a bitter war with the BJP central leadership for not ‘protecting’ him and reinstating him as the state’s chief minister.
Yeddyurappa, who sometimes back flexed his muscles with the party high command for anointing his favourite DV Sadananda Gowda as his successor, is now branding him as a ‘traitor’ and ‘opportunist’ who has not fulfilled his promise to vacate the Chief Minister’s post six months after his swearing-in.
The intense power struggle in Karnataka has spilt the saffron party in two camps- the one siding with BSY and the other willing to toe the BJP high command’s line. However, the enormity of the problem has made things difficult for the BJP central leadership and exposed its inability to avert a major crisis- a possible split in the party.
The widening rift between the two camps has surely put the BJP high command in a fix, which is still exploring ways to pacify a defiant Yeddyurappa and save the party’s reputation in its southern stronghold.
However, with both sides accusing each other and the Yeddyurappa camp not willing to accept anything less than a chief minister’s post for their ‘beloved’ leader, the crisis in the BJP does not appear to be dying down anytime soon.
What has further troubled the BJP top brass is the speculation that after being ignored by his party in times of his personal crisis, he might quit and form another party to fulfill his political ambition. Considering Yeddyurappa’s immense popularity and his stature as the biggest leader of the powerful Lingayat community, the BJP top brass has reasons to worry.
Lending credence to this speculation, Yeddyurappa has praised Congress and its chief Sonia Gandhi for being very supportive of their tainted leaders, fuelling speculations that he may knock at the doors of the Grand Old Party.
Justifying the political crisis in the state, Yeddyurappa accused Gowda of insulting those MLAs and MPs who are close to him. What has further fuelled this power struggle is a ‘secret’ letter reportedly shot off by Gowda and state unit chief KS Eshwarappa to the party chief Nitin Gadkari, accusing Yeddyurappa loyalist MLAs of indulging in anti-party activities and lack of cooperation in governance.
After the media reported about the secret letter, Yeddyurappa sent two letters to Gowda, carrying signatures of 38 MLAs, seeking an emergency meeting of the BJP legislature party and an open debate on the issue. However, the demand was outrightly rejected. The gross insult of his close confidantes by the chief minister has fuelled Yeddyurappa’s ire and he now looks set to keep the records straight with his once close Gowda.
After the reported resignation of nine prominent ministers of the Gowda cabinet, a split within the BJP appears imminent unless the high command works out a ‘compromise formula’ and concedes to Yeddyurappa’s demand for replacing Gowda.
If the reports are to be believed, Yeddyurappa, not willing to be sidelined in his own party, is now mulling to quit, posing an existential threat to the four-year-old BJP government in the state.
On the other hand, Sadananda Gowda has also indicated that he is not opposed to seeking a fresh mandate. The Chief Minister has hit back at the Yeddyurappa camp saying that if situation reaches irresolvable levels, he will be forced to apprise the central leadership that seeking a fresh mandate would be a better option than continuing in this situation.
In case Yeddyurappa succeeds in his plans and quits, a lot of BJP MLAs and his close associates would also desert the party bringing the Gowda government in minority. And if this happens, the ensuing situation would offer Congress and JD-S a golden opportunity to stake claim to form the next government, which would be another embarrassment for the BJP.
The dramatic developments in Karnataka started two days after the Supreme Court, accepting the key recommendations of its high-level panel, ordered a CBI probe into allegations that Yeddyurappa and his family received kickbacks for granting mining leases to the firms favoured by him during his tenure as the chief minister.
After the apex court ruling, which shattered Yeddyurappa’s hopes of a comeback, the BJP central leadership maintained a pin-drop silence and distanced itself from the tainted leader.
With the BJP central leaders not coming out in his support, Yeddyurappa held confabulations with his close associates at his Race Course residence to discuss the next move. Consequently, seven ministers – Basavaraj Bommai, Murugesh Nirani, V Somanna, Umesh Katti, CM Udasi, MP Renukacharya, and Shobha Karandlaje - submitted their resignations to Yeddyurappa.
The eighth - Minister for Animal Husbandry Revunaik Belamagi, who was not in Bengaluru, offered to hand over his resignation later. If reports are to be believed, at least 15 BJP MLAs had submitted their papers addressed to Assembly Speaker KG Bopaiah and another 45 MLAs are waiting in line to quit their Assembly membership.
An overwhelmed Yeddyurappa had threatened the BJP high command to either act or face consequences for not listening to him. The top brass, which has asked Yeddyurappa not to precipitate a crisis, has so far failed to calm down the rebel Lingayat community leader, who is in no mood to give up this time.
So what will the BJP high command do now? Will it be able to override the severe turbulence faced by the party in the form of rebellion by one of its tallest leaders? Will the BJP leadership be able to save its reputation as a party where internal matters do not come to fore? Will Yeddyurappa finally quit the BJP and float a new political front to fulfill his chief ministerial ambitions and, above all, damage the BJP?
Whether the BJP leadership will recommend to the Governor to dissolve the Assembly and seek fresh elections, only time will tell.
However, as the situation stands the BJP top brass is certainly in no mood to succumb to Yeddyurappa’s constant blackmail and reinstate him to the top post, more so as he faces a CBI inquiry into charges of illegal mining.
Whichever way things unfold, it is unfortunate that the Lingayat leader, once its poster boy, has now become the party’s biggest liability. Like Yeddyurappa, the BJP too stands at crossroads – if it honours him, it will face criticism for surrendering to an individual’s blackmail; and if it refuses to entertain him, he could split the BJP and bring down its strongest bastion.
Embracing or rejecting Yeddyurappa both will harm the BJP and weaken its stand against corruption and render meaningless its campaign against the scam-tainted UPA government.
As a possible compromise, the party high command could appoint Rural Development Minister Jagadish Shettar, who belongs to the Lingayat community, as the new Chief Minister. Interestingly, Shettar is the man who was defeated by the Yeddyurappa camp in the election held to choose a legislature party leader in August last year, which Gowda won.
Whatever one says, factionalism and infighting in the party and its inability to handle crisis situations has surely dented the BJP’s reputation, hurt its electoral prospects, disillusioned its voters and made a mockery of its claim of being a party with a difference.
For Yeddyurappa, it is yet to be seen whether he will be blessed by the famous Siddaganga Mutt in Tumkur, a place where he has been visiting seeking divine help whenever faced with problems.