‘Karnataka episode had embarrassed the BJP’

Saswat Panigrahi caught up with BJP general secretary Dharmendra Pradhan.

Observers say Karnataka is BJP’s raw nerve. It has now been a month since Karnataka got a new Chief Minister ending yet another crisis for the BJP after frantic efforts by party top brass. But trouble in the Karnataka unit of BJP is refusing to die down. Saswat Panigrahi of Zeenews.com caught up with BJP national general secretary and party’s key trouble shooter Dharmendra Pradhan, who micromanages the party affairs in Karnataka.

Saswat: Crisis and Karnataka BJP go hand in hand. Sometime, it is ‘Reddy-made’, sometime it is ‘Bharadwaj-made’ and sometime it is ‘Yeddy-made’. After you became the prabhari, you must be having a tough time in steering the Karnataka unit out of troubles.

Dharmendra: There is no trouble as such. In the recent past, the party has faced certain political developments and tackled those quite effectively. By taking everything into consideration, the party has taken a stand. Now, the new Chief Minister has taken up his task. The party and legislative party, both are behind the new leadership. Things are gradually limping back to normalcy.

The party has made promises to the people of Karnataka. For the last three years, we have been fulfilling those promises and we will continue to fulfil them.

Saswat: Initially there were demands about Yeddyurappa’s removal. The Governor also recommended the same. But with the leaked Lokayukta report, BJP finally replaced him. What actually led to his removal?

Dharmendra: Look…that was our old stand. BJP does not take any political decision based upon somebody’s allegations or statements.

The party has maintained that action would be taken if some judicial authority recommends something on the allegations. Honourable Lokayukta named Yeddyurappaji in his report. Though, we had certain reservations about the report as we believe that some judicial anomalies are there in his report, we respect the judicial report and the party took action upon it.

Saswat: Now Karnataka have got a Yeddy-made Chief Minister. Yeddyurappa has his way. He played hardball and emerged as a leader in his own right. He literally handpicked Sadananda Gowda as his successor.

Dharmendra: This analysis is not true. Undoubtedly, Yeddyurappaji is one among the tallest leaders of the state. Politically, dynamically, Yeddyurappaji is a very popular man.

But, Sadananda Gowdaji was elected by the legislative party unanimously within the democratic process.

Saswat: But why an MP? Why has the party not chosen a legislator as the Chief Minister?

Dharmendra: There is nothing binding that an MP can’t be the leader of the legislative party. There have been precedents in the past. Many times, many states have done this.

Sadananda Gowdaji is an old party worker. He is a very senior leader of my party in Karnataka. It was under him as the state president that BJP rode to power in Karnataka in 2008. He was the deputy leader of opposition in the Karnataka Legislative Assembly. Since his student days, he was an activist.
Saswat: It is said that BJP top brass pushed Jagdish Settar. Reports say senior party leader Ananth Kumar made a vain bid for Settar. But it could not be proved in the ballot box.

Dharmendra: As far as the legislative party is concerned, it has the full authority to decide its own leader. There may be certain differences in the legislative party while selecting the new leader. But all those are internal matters of the party. I don’t want to spell it out in media. But, at no point did the central leadership push anybody. The legislative party has chosen its leader through a democratic process.

Saswat: After the party failed to reach a consensus, the leader of the legislative party was chosen via a secret ballot. Has it exposed the internecine differences? In other words, is BJP badly divided in Karnataka?

Dharmendra: It goes to BJP’s credit that the party allows individuals to aspire for the higher office. This is in sharp contrast to Congress party, where central leadership takes the call on who will be the Chief Minister. I must say the secret ballot to select the new leader points that democratic values exists in BJP.

Saswat: The fissures in the Karnataka unit of BJP were visible during the ministry formation exercise. It was indeed a tough situation with two warring factions involved in hectic lobbying.

Dharmendra: I don’t think so. Ministry formation takes some time. The first phase went smoothly. The second phase will take place shortly. Cabinet expansion is a natural process. It has to take its due time considering certain political-driven matters of the state.

Saswat: The ministry expansion thankfully dropped the controversial mining czar Reddy brothers. Though late, the party has finally acted against them.

Since long, allegations were pouring on them being involved in illegal mining. But what was hindering the party -- which raises strong voice against corruption -- to get rid of Reddy brothers?

Dharmendra: There is no point getting rid of anybody. Politics can’t run through allegations and perceptions. It has to be supported and backed by documents. As I told you earlier, the party has all along maintained that if the allegations are backed by at least certain perceived evidences, the party can think about it. Honourable Lokayukta in his report on illegal mining named Reddy brothers. As per the reported findings of the judicial authority the party has acted upon it politically.

Saswat: Now Jagdish Settar bats for Reddy brothers to include them in the cabinet. He is quoted as saying that Reddy brothers must be included into the ministry as they have strived hard to build BJP in Karnataka?

Dharmendra: I am not aware of any such report. If at all there are, it is not a right interpretation. Who will be in the ministry and who will not be in the ministry is the prerogative of the Chief Minister.
Saswat: The Lokayukta report has put the Karnataka mining scam to the tune of Rs 16, 085 crore. For the first time a Lokayukta report has indicted a ruling BJP CM. To be honest, has the first BJP government in the south dented the saffron party’s image?

Dharmendra: Yes, this is certainly an embarrassment for the party. But the party has taken a political stand at the right time. I think we will overcome the crisis soon as we go back to serve the people of Karnataka.

Saswat: Taking a leaf from the Lokayukta report, Governor H R Bharadwaj says his stand has been vindicated. He has sanctioned prosecution actions against Yedurappa.

Dharmendra: Certain legal procedures are going on. Let it come out. The Governor is authorised to do so. But, that does not mean that his old sins can be justified.

I must remind you that his Excellency Governor HR Bharadwaj has a long history of running an agenda. Ever since he assumed Raj Bhawan in Bangalore, he has been working as an agent of Congress party.

In January this year he sanctioned prosecution of Yedurappa in an alleged land scam even before any preliminary enquiry. It was purely based on observation.

On two different occasions, the Honourable Governor recommended the Centre to impose President’s rule, despite our government successfully scrapped through trust vote. And finally Congress-led central government could not but reject the recommendations.

Saswat: Is Yeddyurappa turning into a liability for BJP?

Dharmendra: No, not at all. Yeddyurappa is a matured leader. Certain cases are there. Certain issues are there. But he will remain an asset for the party.

Saswat: Will BJP be able to wriggle out of the problems in Karnataka?

Dharmendra: I don’t think there is any problem. Certain issues have been raised. Simultaneously, the party had to take certain decisions. There are certain differences of opinions too, but when it comes to politically facing and carrying out our responsibility, the party is united.

The party has always overcome hurdles. I am sure, in the future also, the party and the new leadership of Karnataka will overcome all the difficult situations that might arise.

Saswat: What will be the road ahead for BJP in Karnataka?

Dharmendra: Our primary responsibility is to fulfil our promises and commitments to the people of Karnataka in the next two years. Our focus is to complete all development programs as per the target; we remain committed to the promises that were made during the previous regime. Initiating new development programs are BJP’s immediate priorities in Karnataka.

The new Chief Minister has made it clear that the government will run on the two point agendas of development and good governance.

We will continue to serve the state, thereby will be connected with the people. If we are successful in striking a chord with the people of Karnataka, we can definitely ask for the 2013 mandate in favour of the party. That is our political target.

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