Recent events in Karnataka where the B S Yeddyurappa faction virtually blackmailed the Bharatiya Janata Party high command into replacing chief minister Sadananda Gowda who had earlier been hand-picked by Yeddyurappa himself, has besmirched the already battered image of the party that prided itself once as a ‘party with a difference’. The sheen of morality that it sought to project stands exposed in all its starkness.
If the BJP was seeing visions of using Karnataka as a gateway to South India, that goal is now in smithereens and the party has no one to blame but itself. Nowhere else in the south is the BJP a party with a significant presence. In fact, it is under eclipse even before it could show up on the horizon.
In Tamil Nadu, it is dependent on the AIADMK and has no independent existence worth the name. In Andhra Pradesh, it has failed to make a mark despite the Congress being clearly on the decline. It has no leader of any stature and no strategy to emerge as a party of consequence in the state. In Kerala, where it had pockets of influence, it has not been able to convert scattered support into seats.
It is not as though the Congress in Karnataka has done anything to boast about when in power or out of it or that Janata Dal(S) leader H D Kumaraswamy has shown any great virtue when he was chief minister and later in the Opposition. The fact is that with political parties and their leaders discrediting themselves almost en bloc, the people can hardly be blamed for turning apathetic, or even hostile.
It was Yeddyurappa on whose shoulders the BJP rode to power, but when his stock was at its peak he was besieged by land scandals and allegations of nepotism that he handled clumsily. His defence that others before him had also been involved in similar misdemeanours made him and his party a butt of jokes and an object of ridicule.
The shriller the attacks on him, the more defensive the central leadership of the party became. Defending the indefensible made the party look ridiculous and devoid of credibility. Had the BJP high command honoured its first instincts and replaced Yeddyurappa promptly, it would have considerably enhanced the party’s stock. Instead, the party chose to conduct an anti-corruption crusade against the Congress at the Centre while ignoring the corruption of its own government in Karnataka.
The more the central BJP leaders procrastinated, the more Yeddyurappa grew in strength within the party unit, making it that much more difficult for the high command to force him out. In retrospect, there could not have been a bigger price that procrastination was to extract than the failure to take action against Yeddyurappa in the immediate aftermath of the skeletons tumbling out of his cupboard. The result was that when Yeddyurappa was finally removed it was seemingly too late for the BJP to retrieve lost ground.
That obsessed as it has been with self-preservation, the BJP has neither distinguished itself in governance nor has it held corruption under check are hard facts that the electorate would predictably factor in as the state goes to polls latest by May 2013 or earlier if the poll is advanced.
Yeddyurappa’s successor Sadananda Gowda’s 11-month reign was not tainted by corruption scandals but was instead hit by a sex scandal that has lowered the party’s image nationally, adding a new dimension to the BJP’s moral decline. It was during Sadananda Gowda’s stint that the party had to ask three ministers — Laxman Savadi, C C Patil and J Krishna Palemar — to resign after Savadi and Patil were found watching an adult clip in the Assembly on the cell phone of Palemar.
The acute embarrassment caused to the party in the public eye was sought to be passed over and the exit of the ministers was shown as an act of moral courage. What the party needed to do was to sack the ministers to set an example for other partymen and to send out a message to people at large that such acts would not be tolerated.
An unhappy fallout of the dissensions within the BJP in Karnataka is the sharpening of the caste divide in the state. That the Congress and the JD(S) too had contributed to the schism between the Lingayats and the Vokkaligas when they were in power is beyond question. Whoever may have been more responsible, the fact is that the two strongest communities have been driven apart by politicians out to exploit the rift between them.
The Lingayats, the community to which Yeddyurappa belongs, are BJP’s vote bank while the Vokkaligas lean towards Deve Gowda and his son Kumaraswamy. By jettisoning Sadananda Gowda the BJP has risked angering the Vokkaligas whom it was trying to cultivate through Sadananda’s appointment as chief minister.
The Congress has the support of Dalits, minorities and OBCs who are disunited. Only a wave of revulsion against the BJP rule can catapult the Congress to power on the basis of a negative vote.
It is to the BJP’s relief that the Congress too is faction-ridden if the façade of unity is ripped off. Last month, the Congress leader in the Assembly, Siddaramaiah gave in his resignation in protest over his supporters not being accommodated in the legislative council elections.
The Congress high command makes every effort to shroud the dissensions within the party and to fool the people into believing that all is well, but there is no mistaking the disunity in its ranks.
A great deal will now depend on how the Jagadish Shettar government performs in the run-up to the Assembly elections. While Shettar owes his elevation to the coveted chief ministerial chair to Yeddyurappa, he would have to tread warily to ensure that the leader’s taint does not sully Shettar’s image as an upright leader. More than anything else, Shettar has no time to waste in getting down to serious governance. In a state in which development was once a password, growth with social justice would have to return to the top of the agenda. Corruption would need to be curbed by whatever means.
For the Congress and to a lesser extent the JD(S), this is an acid test. Congressmen will need to close ranks and to entrust its reins in the state to a leader of substance. It will have to come up with an agenda of governance that would fire the imagination of the people.
Kamlendra Kanwar is a veteran journalist and author. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org