MATHIHALLI MADAN MOHAN writes from Hubli: Luck, more than anything, has played a major role in the ascendancy of Jagadish Shettar, who has resigned from the post of speaker of the Karnataka legislative assembly to impose himself on an unwilling Yediyurappa as a member of his cabinet.
In a span of just 15 years, Shettar, an innocuous low-level party functionary, has transformed himself into a contender for the top post of the chief minister, challenging his one time mentor-cum-benefactor
Shettar cut his political teeth in 1994, when he won a surprising victory from Hubli rural, a constituency which had been out of bounds for the BJP/ BJS. The constituency, which had been pocketborough of the Congress since the beginning, leaned towards the Janata Dal for three consecutive terms from 1978, returning the late S.R. Bommai, who rose to become CM succeeding the late Ramakrishna Hegde in 1988.
But with the shock defeat of Bommai in 1989, the Congress regained the seat in 1989 and the 1994 election was poised to be a tussle between the two traditional rivals. But the Idgah Maidan controversy brought about a change in the political preferences of the constituency, thrusting Jagadish Shettar into the limelight.
The Idgah maidan was a piece of land located in the heart of Hubli where Muslims offered prayers twice a year. A legal dispute over the ownership of the land resulted in the Anjuman Islam losing the case, with the court rejecting its claim that it had a lease.
The court ruled that what Anjuman had a license and not a lease.
The BJP spearheaded an agitation for hoisting the national flag on national festivals in the Idgah maidan. This sparked off communal tension. The actions of the Congress government in Karnataka was also a contributory factor for the escalation of tension. which resulted in the police opening fire in which seven persons were killed, months prior to the election.
So, with the Idgah row hanging in the air, the BJP went on to capture Hubli. The Janata Dal candidate, Basavaraj Bommai, the son for the former chief minister, failed to avenge the defeat of his father in the previous election.
Jagadish Shettar, who was picked by the BJP as its candidate, was a political non-entity, being merely the head of the Hubli rural taluk unit of the party.
He got lucky.
Since then Shettar has not looked back.
If Idgah did the trick in 1994, it was the shock defeat of Yediyurappa in his home-constituency Shikaripur in 1999 which proved lucky for Shettar to move up the political ladder.
Yediyurappa had a pathological aversion for the party’s senior most legislator B.B. Shivappa from Hassan in succeeding him as the leader of the opposition in the assembly. The mantle as a consequence fell on the shoulders of one of the junior most legislators of the party, Shettar, who was on to his second stint as MLA.
The reason proffered then was that as a junior he would be more amenable to Yediyurappa than anybody else. Yediyurappa was proved right.
In the 2004 election, Shettar performed a hat trick of retaining the seat. With the return of Yediyurappa to the assembly, it was no longer possible for him to continue in the post. But in another quirk of political he found himself landing up as the new party president, in place of Basavaraj Patil Sedam, who was caught in the vortex of the struggle between Yediyurappa and Ananth Kumar.
Shettar’s name again came in handy.
The Yediyurappa group outsmarted others in wangling the post for Shettar. Result: Shettar, who had hardly any organisational experience, found himself as the party president of the Karnataka unit of the BJP.
The win in 2008 election was a cakewalk victory for Shettar, with the Congress and JDS fielding weak candidates against him. And the internal fight within the Congress also contributed to his fourth success. His place in the cabinet was assured by his position and seniority in the JDS-BJP coalition, which fell apart after 20 months in office.
He was also a member of the short-lived BJP government, before President’s rule was imposed paving for election in 2008.
In all the posts he has held since his first election—as leader of the opposition in the second term, as party president in the third and as minister in the fourth term—the performanance of Shettar was not brilliant but ordinary, run of the mill variety. He hardly ever managed to emerge out of the shadow of his senior and the mentor Yediyurappa.
Though he had registered his fourth win from Hubli, Shettar was shocked to find that Yediyurappa had not preferred him to be a member of the BJP government formed for the first time. For the first time, the message went out loud and clear that the relations between the mentor and protégé had become strained and Yediyurappa felt that the latter was growing beyond his shoes and deserved to be cut to his size.
What however hurt Shettar was not his exclusion but the subtle attempts made by Yediyurappa to promote a junior Lingayat legislator and new entrant to the party like Basavaraj Bommai, whom Shettar had defeated in 1994.
Bommai who was in JDU and represented the local authorities constituency in the legislative council joined the BJP and successfully contested the assembly election from Shiggaon. The only small mercy shown by Yediyurappa was that Bommai was not made as the minister in charge of Dharwad district.
Miffed, Shettar stayed away from the swearing-in ceremony as a mark of protest. Thanks to the intervention of the party high command, he scaled one more notch of this political career to become the Speaker of the assembly. For a while he was reluctant to accept the speaker’s post. He demurred only when the High Command made it clear that it was a “take it or leave it” situation.
Though he occupied a post, which was equal in stature if not more than that of the chief minister, Shettar made it clear that he was not interested in continuing in the office and that his heart was set on being a minister.
Despite his differences with the CM, speaker Shettar proved to be a convenient tool in the “Operation Kamala” mounted by the BJP in cahoots with the Reddy Brothers to muster a majority. Opposition legislators were enticed by the brothers to resign their seats, and submit their letters to Shettar.
But the banner of revolt raised by the Reddy group against Yediyurappa, pitchforked Shettar into prominence. Shettar was a mere camouflage to cover their real designs of occupying the gaddi one day or the other. But it could not stake its claim right away, since it was not only politically inopportune.
Even if the Reddys had succeeded in dislodging Yediyurappa and put Shettar in his place, the latter would have been nothing but a puppet manipulated by the wily Reddys, since Shettar neither has the support nor the clout to withstand the pressure of the Reddy group.
When a strong personality like Yediyurappa could be brought down, where do the lesser mortals stand against the manipulations and machinations of the Reddys?
So, dame luck has once again dealt a card favourable to Shettar, projecting him as the chief minister in waiting, notwithstanding the fact that whether he has or does not have the capacity, grit and gumption to handle the onerous responsibility in a trying time like this.
It is another matter, whether Shettar should have involved himself actively in politicking, when the office of speaker held by him demanded that he remained apolitical. But Shettar today stands only one step away from the coveted post of the chief minister.
Will the streak of luck run further to make him realise his dream of occupying the gaddi of the chief minister remains to be seen.
Photograph: Jagadish Shettar, who joined the state cabinet, takes the blessings of his parents, Shivappa Shettar and Basavannemma, during the swearing-in ceremony at Raj Bhavan in Bangalore on Tuesday. (Karnataka Photo News)