MATHIHALLI MADAN MOHAN writes from Hubli: The manner in which the BJP high command moved to sort out the three-week-long political imbroglio within the ruling party in Karnataka, has exposed the chinks in the armoury of the BJP, both at the national and state levels.
1. The delay in decision-making: The situation in Karnataka did not brook any delay, politically and administratively, for the paralysis in the working of the government as a result of the crisis, had brought to a virtual halt the task of the rehabilitation of the people devastated by the floods in northern Karnataka, the political turf of the party.
Every day’s delay in resolving the crisis stood the risk of denting the battered political image of the BJP government some more.
Unmindful of this, the BJP leadership took its own sweet time in solving the crisis. It indulged in the luxury of procrastination, held endless meetings, which proved futile, and issued diktats, which were mocked at.
Moreover, for a party which prides itself on how it deals with issues differently from the Congress, the very fact that the State issue had to be sorted out at the level of the “high command”, a Congress term the BJP scorns, underlined the difference between precept and practice in realpolitik.
2. The lack of effective leadership: Led by the so-called Iron Man and the “former future Prime Minister of India” (to use churumuri‘s formulation), L.K. Advani, the BJP leadership dithered and appeared confused while dealing with the Reddys, who had raised the demand for a change of leadership.
This approach was in sharp contrast with the firm and quiet manner in which Sonia Gandhi chose to put Jagan Mohan Reddy (the ambitious son of the late Andhra Pradesh chief minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy) who was aspiring to step into the shoes of his father, in his place.
Moreover, the writ of the BJP bigwigs like Advani, president Rajnath Singh, and Karnataka in-charge Arun Jaitely hardly ran. After several rounds of confabulations, the trio was absolutely clueless as to how to resolve the crisis as the Reddys proved to be intractable .
Eventually, it was left to Sushma Swaraj to apply the healing touch.
The Reddy group merrily defied the leadership, rejected the formula proffered and ignored the warning of possible disciplinary action. Barring the fact that their stand against changing the leadership in Karnataka ultimately prevailed, the BJP leadership could not prevent Yediyurappa from swallowing the humiliation heaped on him.
Yediyurappa was ultimately made to yield to the pressure by the dissident group on various issues. As for the Reddy gang, they went scotfree with their act of rebellion, after having indulged in an embarrassing game of carting away the supporters to luxurious resorts far away from Bangalore.
3. A Godmother, dummy, not a Godfather: Ever since the Reddys started flexing their political muscle in Karnataka, the identity of their Godfather in the party hierarchy had been a matter of speculation.
It is now clear that the Reddys had not a Godfather, but a Godmother, in Sushma Swaraj.
And the Reddys have no qualms in publicly acknowledging her as much.
Theirs is a decade-old association. It started in 1999 when Sushma contested against Sonia Gandhi in the Lok Sabha election from Bellary. Thanks to the backing of the Reddys, she was able to make the Congress fight for very vote.
Result: in a constituency which used to routinely return Congress candidates, Sonia Gandhi and the Congress had to huff and puff to the victory post.
Though she lost the poll, Sushma Swaraj maintained regular touch with Bellary and made her annual visits during Varamahalakshmi pooja to bless the Reddys. Over the years she has turned out to be their mentor. The recent BJP crisis was payback time for her, in a manner of speaking.
4. Was the solution deliberately delayed?: Why did Sushma Swaraj hold back from lending a hand to solve the crisis and why did she move in only when others including Advani failed to make headway? Did she wait till the pitch was sufficiently queered before stepping in to strike a deal which was totally favourable to her protégés?
Was she trying to teach a lesson to Yediyurappa who had ignored her?
Or did Sushma Swaraj use this opportunity to demonstrate her clout and political prowess at a time when the BJP is scouting for new faces, as a replacement Rajnath Singh which is imminent?
5. In the end, an unworkable formula: The peace formula worked out is farcical to say the least. The formula of retaining Yediyurappa as CM and allowing the Reddys to stay in the cabinet, reminds one of the popular Kannada proverb “Neither the serpent should die nor should the stick be broken”.
By the nature of their personalities, this is an unworkable formula.
Yediyurappa is more a solo than a team player, while the Reddy brothers are openly aggressive politically and do not countenance anybody trying to boss over them. Therefore the day is not far off when fireworks might surface again between the camps, since the party is now clearly divided between the pro-Yeddyurappa and pro-Reddy camps already.
The BJP’s national leadership has taken a strange decision of constituting a coordination committee to oversee the working of the government in Karnataka.
What is normally done in coalition government is sought to be undertaken even under a single party government. Perhaps this is a tacit admission of the fact that factionalism in BJP in Karnataka has come to stay.
But the most pernicious aspect of the solution is the manner in which the leadership has capitulated to the Reddys, their dubious reputation of flaunting money power for political aggrandisement, their alleged involvement in the illegal mining activities, and their overbearing attitude that they are a cut above the law.
By winking at the continued indiscretions of the Reddys and prevailing upon Chief Minister to yield to them, the national leadership appears to have given a virtual carte blanche to the group to run Karnataka in whatever manner they like and choose.
The BJP’s sphinx-like silence on the MLAs indulging in politicking at the meanest level and enjoying the comforts of luxurious resorts, while those who had elected them reeled under the misery brought about by flood, appears to be totally callous for a national party which wants to prove that it is qualitatively different from others.
If the national leadership of the BJP had chosen to sacrifice the normal democratic norms at the altar of political opportunism, Yediyurappa has sacrificed his self-respect to keep his chair intact.
He has not only bent backwards to accommodate the demands of the Reddy group which he had earlier rejected, but has also accepted conditions, which no other self-respecting CM would have agreed to.
This is only the beginning of the era of embarrassment for Yediyurappa.
He has already obliged the Reddys by acceding to their demand for dropping his two trusted aides, the minister Shobha Karandlaje, his secretary, bureaucrat and senior IAS official V P Baligar. Five others ministers are expected to follow suit shortly, who would be replaced by an equal number of pro-Reddy legislators.
The proposed coordination panel would further erode the authority and discretionary powers enjoyed by the Chief Minister.
The CM has already had the mortification of reinstating the pro-Reddy officers, whom he had earlier transferred on charges of non-performanance. It includes the deputy commissioners of the districts of Bellary and Gadag, and the superintendent of police in Bellary, the home district of the Reddys.
Yediyurappa today stands totally devalued, and is shattered, too, judging from the manner in which he has been ruminating his plight and shedding tears in public.
Everybody knows that his authority to govern has suffered serious erosion because of the dissident activities. It is now common knowledge that the Reddys hold all the aces.
It is not that a seasoned politician like Yediyurappa is unaware of the predicament in which he has landed. But what keeps him going is his singleminded determination to be in power.
The addiction to power, is not however a trait, which is unfamiliar to him.
It was noticed in 1999, when he was shocked by his defeat in the assembly election. As was his wont, he vowed that he would enter the legislature only through a direct election.
Before the people could digest the implication of his statement, Yediyurappa had chosen the path of indirect election to enter the legislative council in a bid to be active in politics and legislature.