By Maqbool Ahmed Siraj
A third avatar of the BJP Government has taken over the reins in Karnataka under the leadership of Jagadeesh Shettar. The latest transition was though not without hiccups, it is at least certain that the former chief minister Mr. Yeddyurappa still calls the shots in the party and the BJP legislature party in its current tenure may not be able to walk out of his domineering shadow over itself. To this extent Mr. Shettar’s hands will be tied from taking independent initiatives while steering the party through the election year. He is less likely to be allowed to assert himself.
With less than nine months to go to polls, the BJP is a pale shadow of itself in Karnataka. The party’s political credibility has hit its nadir with a third chief minister being installed in the saddle. Yet not everything is lost. Government’s performance has been above average, especially in rural areas. Secondly, it is still the most organized among the political groupings vying for power next April or May. Thirdly, a weak, leaderless, and largely ideologically disoriented Congress party lends the BJP a huge advantage.
Yeddyurappa is down, but not certainly out. His grip over the party organization in Karnataka has not loosened a bit. To the party’s advantage or disadvantage, he is the only mass leader who can mobilize masses. And is also the one most acceptable face to the community establishment among Lingayaths, the caste that rules the roost within the BJP. The ease with which he got rid of D. V. Sadananda Gowda, who had begun coming into his own, has now convinced the party machine, however menacing, Yeddy’s diktats can be ignored only at the cost of power in the state.
The BJP’s High Command knows it too well that Yeddyurappa is not what Narendra Modi is to the BJP’s survival or continuance in power in Gujarat. Taint of corruption is more indelible than the kind of reputation Modi carries in the national or international media. Being communal is not comparable with being corrupt, for the former helps the party in a communally polarized state like Gujarat. It is also aware of the deleterious consequences of being casteist in a state like Karnataka where equally powerful, if not more, caste groups can ruin its prospects simply by tilting their favour away from it and aligning with victims of communal policies.
Despite all the wrongs it has done, surprisingly the BJP remains the most favourite in Karnataka till date. This is mainly owing to the Congress whose plight is pathetic. Largely rudderless, it is going nowhere. Its party machine is moribund and covert infighting has seen to it that no effective leadership gets crystallized into the choice for the top post, i.e., the chief minister. The Party is hell-bent on dissuading its best supporters from backing it. The way Iqbal Ahmed Saradgi, a two-time MP was humiliated and was humbled in the legislative council elections may be just one instance. One swallow does not of course make a summer. But it is indication enough that the party is being led listlessly, unable to keep its flock together. All through the four years, the party could win just one byelection, i.e., the Chikmagalur Lok Sabha seat vacated by Mr. Sadananda Gowda, chiefly because Yeddyurappa was keen to show his own clout to the party. BJP’s track record of winning byelections as well as the polls in the civic bodies has been unparallel despite all its misdoings like operation Lotus and series of scams.
Saradgi’s defeat was just one signal that Congress is far from united and able to carry its flock together. Its leadership has been shy of challenging the BJP on ideological front too. Assembly proceedings have been lackadaisical mainly owing to the lack of ability to put the government on the mat despite one of the worst drought the state has been witnessing. To boot, the BJP Government’s impressive record on maintaining power supply”note the hydel reservoirs are empty for the last five months”has left the Congress armour empty. The party is yet to come out with one point where it would be able to challenge the government. Not even on communal front. The BJP ensured that rabid elements were kept under check and police largely operated in non-partisan manner. The way the police were allowed to expose the Ram Sene’s plot behind the hoisting of Pakistani flag at Sindgi demonstrated that when it comes to hate-mongering it too would not be found lax. However, what is discernible is that the party is keen to spurn Muslims but not hurt them. It could be seen in matters of Muslim representation. Its policy of exclusion remains very much on the board. KPSC is without a Muslim member for the first time. Karnataka Minorities Commission has assumed a larger role, i.e., maligning all Muslim individuals, be they politicians, bureaucrats or Wakf Board members. Yeddyurappa was charitable enough to include at least one Muslim minister. Sadananda Gowda and Shettar cared a damn while doing away even with that tokenism.
Encouraged with BJP’s repugnant and Congress’ indifferent attitude, the Janata Dal Secular has started throwing bait for the sizeable Muslim minority vote. The party’s Muslim MLA Zameer Ahmed Khan organized a Muslim Sammelana in the third week of July”a first by a political party in the state. (It may be noted that it is season for various caste sammelanas in the State’s pre-poll exercises) In the party’s own terminology, it was Shap vimochana (to rid itself of the curse of allying with the BJP in a coalition between 2004-06). Though it is too early to say how effective it would be in swinging the Muslim votes towards the JDS, it at least signaled that Muslims were looking for an alternative and are in no mood to be bracketed with the Congress. However JDS record in offering any hope for Muslims is questionable. It did succeed in enabling a Muslim in the recent Council election”leading fruit merchant Mudeer Ahmed Agha”a seat. But the very day yet another Muslim leader, Abdul Azeem, a former police officer quit its ranks and spoiled the party considerably. Azeem, it is agreed, was a cut above Zameer Ahmed Khan, given his level of articulation and Khan’s gimmickry.
Meanwhile, monsoon is playing spoilsport in the State for the BJP. It is to be seen how the ruling party manages its affairs and ensures its return to power or handing over the advantage to its rivals.