The Karnataka free for all

As BJP fights itself,rivals only watch,and the people wait for governance

Written by Sandeep Shastri | Published: May 16, 2012 3:14 am

As BJP fights itself,rivals only watch,and the people wait for governance

Karnataka has remained prominent on the national political radar for some time now. Come May-end,the BJP will complete an eventful four years in power in the state. A fresh challenge has appeared on the political horizon almost every day over the last 48 months. The BJP projected itself as a party with a difference,and when it came to power in Karnataka,these differences came through in a unique way. Many non-BJP legislators were persuaded to resign and contest on the BJP ticket in the by-election. The launching of Operation Lotus in order to secure a majority on one’s own and not depend on the support of independents was the first sign of “difference”. The open role of powerful and influential lobbies (mining,real estate and heads of “maths”,to name a few) in the running of the government was yet another “difference”. As one difference after another unfolded,the play of politics charted its own course. The party was forced to change its chief minister last year and a split in the party was openly visible. The events of the last few days are a clear reflection of the widening gulf within the party between the supporters of former CM B.S. Yeddyurappa and those against him.

The government and governance in the state seem to be in a hopeless drift. The ruling party faces a situation in which its former CM is openly attacking his hand-picked successor. The central leadership does not wish to precipitate matters by taking any drastic action. The cynic would aver that it is not a question of “not wanting to” but of “not being able to” take decisive steps. A CM has to run the government with a set of colleagues who are openly opposed to his leadership. This clearly reflects the state of affairs in the ruling party. Leaders seem to be getting away with patently anti-party statements and activities. Last year,after agonisingly long negotiations,the BJP central leadership was able to secure the resignation of Yeddyurappa. The former CM ensured that a person of his choice succeeded him. The council of ministers remained largely unchanged. The new CM,Sadananda Gowda,preferred not to contest a direct election to enter the legislative assembly but to take the legislative council route. This weakened his political clout within the party. Under his leadership,the party lost a crucial assembly by-election and he was not able to ensure that the Lok Sabha seat he vacated was retained by the party. The new CM gradually distanced himself from his mentor and this led to a realignment of forces within the party. Two camps clearly emerged — the pro-Yeddyurappa camp and the others. A helpless central leadership was unable to stem the infighting.

With the state assembly elections due in a year,the BJP faces an uphill task. Yeddyurappa seems keen to provoke the BJP leadership to take action against him so that he can play the political martyr in the next assembly polls. His supporters seem unsure as to how far they can push their dissidence. Yeddyurappa is aware that his support amongst legislators will dwindle dramatically if he chooses to leave the party. As a result,many of the present moves by the Yeddyurappa camp are aimed at ensuring the protection of their interests within the party. Their leader,however,seems to be getting increasingly impatient and is spoiling for a political fight. However,the history of Karnataka’s electoral politics shows that the electorate has never favoured a third force.

The CM,meanwhile,finds himself in the unenviable position of having to seek the support of the party central leadership for any move. It seems clear that in the run-up to the elections,this rift within the party will only widen. Factionalism is now out in the open. There is no evidence of any effort by the central leadership to bring together the two factions and project a picture of unity. The party seems reconciled to making the best of one more year in power. Being a ruling party,it allows for the distribution of spoils of office. Strategising for the next election can surely wait! The party seems to have neither the time nor the inclination to think of the next election. Day-to-day survival seems to be top priority.

The Congress clearly senses an advantage in the coming assembly polls. Given the state of the BJP and the record of its government,it could well be a political climate that will work to their advantage. However,the record of the Congress in Karnataka shows that it has the skill of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. In the past,it has often managed to defeat itself. While the party has made a concerted effort to demonstrate a show of unity,this has still to be reflected in the behaviour of its senior leaders. There are too many claimants for a chief ministership after an election that is yet to be won. Given the trend across the country,it may be a good idea for the Congress to declare its chief ministerial candidate and get the party solidly behind that leader. In the past,when the high command declared its chief ministerial candidate,the campagin acquired clear direction and there was visible enthusiasm among party workers. It would give them an advantage in preparation for the polls.

The JD(S) is watching from the sidelines and hoping to fish in the troubled political waters. Their strategy seems to be to hope for an assembly next year where no party has a clear majority and their numbers in the House allow them to play the kingmaker.

In the run-up to the assembly polls,the moves made by major political players will be crucial in deciding and defining the electoral verdict. The state is bound to witness a year of hectic,pulsating and riveting political activity.

The writer is director,Centre of Research in Social Sciences and Education,Bangalore

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