Karnataka crisis: Lessons for BJP

The election of new leader in Karnataka has exposed sharp divisions in BJP’s state unit.

Ritesh K Srivastava

Since the day the BJP seized power in Karnataka, its first-ever government in the southern state has faced several litmus tests for survival, but it passed all of them albeit by a whisker.

The election of DV Sadananda Gowda as the new leader to succeed outgoing Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa on August 03, 2011 is yet another instance when the party has managed to quell a possible revolt over the leadership issue.

The election of Gowda, who is a Lok Sabha member from Udupi-Chikmagalur and known for his clean image, has no doubt ended the spell of uncertainty, but it is bound to have wider political ramification for the party in the future.

The high-voltage political drama, which unfolded with the indictment of former chief minister BS Yeddyurappa in the Lokayukta report on illegal mining and his subsequent ouster, has culminated with Gowda’s emergence as the new leader of the BJP’s state legislative party.

But Sadananda Gowda’s ascension to the Chief Minister’s post has not been a cakewalk as it brought the party to the brink of a split and exposed the bitter struggle for one-upmanship between the two big shots of Karnataka politics – BS Yeddyurappa and HN Ananth Kumar.

At the moment, the BJP central leadership must be heaving a sigh of relief that its central observers Arun Jaitely and Rajnath Singh somehow succeeded in resolving the leadership crisis, it is fully aware of the challenges it faces in keeping the party intact in the future and the bitter lessons it learnt from Karnataka.
Lesson No. 1: Yeddyurappa still rules the roost

With Sadananda Gowda’s election as the new leader of the BJP legislative party, Yeddyurappa has further strengthened his grip over the party. He has proved that he still remains BJP’s tallest leader in Karnataka and is indispensible for the party. Gowda’s rise is being seen as Yeddyurappa’s success as the latter has retained his standing as the most important Lingayat leader in Karnataka by ensuring the defeat of Jagdish Shetter - another popular leader from his own community in the race for chief ministership. Interestingly, BSY has already announced that he will return once his name is cleared in the mining scam.

Lesson No. 2: Sharp divisions in BJP’s state unit

The political crisis in the state has exposed the inner-party bickering and an ugly war for supremacy. It is an open secret that the BJP’s Karnataka unit is divided in two camps - one led by Yeddyurappa and the other led by Ananth Kumar, who is party’s national general secretary and BSY’s biggest political rival. Nearly a week ago, when BSY announced his departure, he made his intentions clear that he won’t go easily and told the party high command that a person of his choice is to be made the state’s new chief minister. He then proposed the name of Sadananda Gowda - his long-time associate- as his new successor.
On the other side, Ananth Kumar fielded his trusted lieutenant Jagdish Shetter as the top contender for chief minister’s chair. After Yeddyurappa`s exit, party`s senior most leaders Arun Jaitley and Rajnath Singh made desperate attempts to reach a consensus on the BSY’s likely successor but the rival factions stuck to their guns forcing a showdown. Leaders of both factions, leaving nothing to chance, indulged in the numbers game and ferried their loyalist MLAs to separate star hotels in an attempt to guard them from being poached.

The turn of events complicated the situation and delayed the election of a new consensus leader to succeed Yeddyurappa. All this forced the central observers to hold a secret ballot to choose a new leader, which saw Gowda emerging victorious with 63 votes in his favour against 55 votes which went in favour of rival Jagdish Shettar. However, the rigorous election exposed the sharp division in BJP`s state unit and the existence of various power centres, which can make or break BJP’s prospects in the future.
Lesson No. 3: Can Sadananda Gowda change BJP`s fortunes?

Despite Gowda’s image as an affable and non-controversial figure in Karnataka politics, he is known to be a staunch Yeddyurappa loyalist. In this context, it would be his biggest challenge to stop his mentor from running the government by proxy. Besides giving a pro-development and people-friendly government, his immediate task would be to rebuild BJP’s reputation as a corruption free party. More than the opposition, Gowda will have to fear Annath Kumar and state unit president KS Eswarappa, who opposed his nomination on the ground that his election would give BSY a chance to rule by proxy.
Lesson No. 4: Will BJP appease Ananth Kumar?

Now with Gowda taking over reins of the state on August 04, his emergence has disturbed the political equation. It is being speculated that the Ananth Kumar faction will now exert pressure on the party high command to make Shettar the deputy chief minister, which will ensure harmony and the smooth functioning of the government. It will certainly be a tough call for the BJP high command considering Ananth Kumar’s stature as a powerful national leader from the state.

Lesson No. 5: Will BJP punish the corrupt?

By removing Yeddyurappa, BJP has certainly got moral high ground in its fight against corruption. However, it would be interesting to see how the main opposition party deals with its corrupt leaders who face allegations of corruption and have been indicted in Lokayukta Santosh Hegde’s explosive report on illegal mining. This also holds significance as Karnataka Governor HR Bhardwaj has given a go-ahead to the new Lokayukta Shivraj Patil to initiate criminal proceedings against Yeddyurappa, Reddy Brothers and others indicted for their role in illegal mining business. BSY has already moved a petition in the Karnataka High Court to reverse the recommendations made by Hegde for initiating criminal proceedings against all those accused under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988. BJP’s stand on the issue will certainly have a bearing on its campaign against the corruption-tainted UPA regime at the Centre.

As the situation stands, the BJP has managed to end the political uncertainty prevailing in its southern stronghold Karnataka, but it still faces an unrelenting opposition (Congress and JD-S) which will not let the row over the illegal mining business die down soon.

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