“Welcome to the Vidhana Soudha. If you are a Lingayat, press 1. If your are a Gowda , press 2. If you are a Kuruba, press 3. If you are a Idiga, press 4. If you are a Dalit, press 5. If you are a Muslim, press 6. If you are a Christian, press 7. If you are none of these, disconnect and join the queue for Dharma Darshana of the Chief Minister and take your chance. Thanks for calling.”
MATHIHALLI MADAN MOHAN writes from Hubli: At the moment, this is just an SMS doing the rounds but don’t be surprised if you were to actually hear this message in the days to come, as the process of political churning set in motion by the present BJP dispensation, is taken to its logical conclusion.
At the moment, the polarisation of castes, which is what this political churning amounts to, remains confined to the internal struggle for power within the ruling party. Its success or failure could spur other parties to follow suit, leaving Karnataka vying with Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
What is however special to the political churning in Karnataka is that the process has been initiated by a national party like the BJP, while in other States it has generally been the handiwork of regional parties at the cost of the Congress or BJP.
The author of the ongoing process in Karnataka is, of course, none other than the disgruntled former chief minister, B.S. Yediyurappa, who is desperate to regain political primacy in the State after he was forced to quit office in the wake of his indictment by the Lokayukta in the illegal mining and other scams.
But it has also got an indirect endorsement from the BJP’s bosses in New Delhi, who have been singularly helpless in curbing the political intransigence of the former CM, because of the imperative necessity of keeping the first saffron government south of Vindhyas in office, by hook or by crook.
It was Yediyurappa who started overtly playing the Lingayat card although the chief minister’s post in the State has been held by Lingayat politicians before him. It is a mystery what prompted Yediyurappa at the pinnacle of his popularity to play the caste card card, which has reduced him from a mass leader to the leader of a single caste.
For years, if not decades, Yediyurappa had painted himself as a leader of all classes and castes. He rose through dint of sheer hard work and sustained organisational strength.
Once he took over as the Chief Minister in 2008, he started portraying himself as the unquestioned political leader of the Lingayats, a prominent community which has a pan-Karnataka presence, with the northern half of the State being the sheet anchor of the support.
Yediyurappa started courting the religious heads among the community and was liberal in doling grants to the institutions managed by them.
If the move was aimed at providing himself with a shield to fight his political battle, it obviously failed.
For sure, the swamijis were at the forefront whenever his throne was in trouble, but it was hardly of avail since he could not prevent his ouster 11 months ago despite the campaigning by the lingayat swamijis. As a matter of fact, the swamijis got their reputation tarnished by the manner in which they winked at corruption.
Furthermore, their attempts to save a government steeped in corruption and a bunch of ministers neck deep in it merely because they happened to be Lingayats made them a laughing stock in public.
The caste politics unleashed by Yediyurappa was on full display during the formation of the third BJP ministry headed by Jagadish Shettar. The Vokkaligas suddenly discovered that D.V. Sadananda Gowda, who was facing the heat, was a fellow Vokkaliga and rallied around him.
Though they could not save DVS’s chair, they gave enough hints that they are also a force to be reckoned with in Karnataka politics.
It was not without insignificant that the Deve Gowda-Kumaraswamy duo which was vocal in the criticism of the Yediyurappa government had suddenly grown soft during Sadananda Gowda’s 11-month regime. The transformation was attributed widely to the Vokkalinga connection.
The post of Chief Minister having gone to Shettar, a Lingayat, the two other powerful castes insisted and succeeded in creating specially two posts of the deputy chief ministers for the first time in Karnataka politics, and these went to K.S. Eswarappa (Kuruba) and R. Ashok (Vokkaliga).
It is expected that the post of the party president, which may be vacated by Eswarappa on his induction into the cabinet, is likely to go to “others” category.
To make the power sharing arrangement more authentic, both Eswarappa and Ashok were specifically sworn as the deputy CMs, even though the Constitution does not recognize such a political office. Normally aspirants are sworn in as a minister and later get designated as the deputy CM. Whether this will be a precedent for ministry-making exercises in future remains to be seen.
The pattern of distribution of portfolios in the BJP-run government has been done according to the same formula, with the powerful caste denominations walking away with plum portfolios while the insignificant groups have been forced to accept minor and less-important ones.
Ironically, there was no Lingayat politician who could command the allegiance of Lingayats and emerge as their political voice. In fact, it was not any Lingayat politician but a Bramhin, the late Ramakrishna Hegde, who commanded the respect and trust of Lingayats as a whole in general and in northern half of the state in particular.
Hegde chose to deny himself what would have been a fresh lease of life for his political career when he resisted the pressure by his followers in the new political outfit the United Janata Dal to take over as the CM in place of J.H Patel, who was reigning then.
This he did because he did not want to hurt Lingayat sentiments.
The BJP’s continued drought of political support in the 1990s came as a byproduct of the electoral tie-up between the BJP and the JDU to fight the Congress. Hedge’s demise created a political vacuum and the BJP and Yediyurappa moved in to fit the bill.
This is what enabled Yediyurappa to claim as a lingayat leader.
But its continued Lingayat fixation coupled with Yediyurappa’s narcissistic tendencies have contributed substantially to the precipitous fall of Yediyurappa from political grace.
When the BJP high command forced Yediyurappa to quit , his ego was badly hurt. He could not countenance his exit from power. Since then he has been ranting and raving for the restoration of his own political hegemony and has been bemoaning the loss of political primacy for Lingayats.
He has only a single-point agenda: he should have political power either by de jure or de facto manner.
If he cannot get power on his own directly, he must enjoy it through proxy. This was the rationale behind his move to get his own nominee Sadananda Gowda installed as his successor.
Gowda, a low profile functionary, happened to be one his confidants and a safe bet to be trusted unlike his other confidant Shettar, a fellow Lingayat, who had strayed away from his path. This, he achieved after virtually brow beating the high command for the selection of successor through voting.
But he got wary of Gowda soon, as the latter showed signs of moving out of his orbit.
Result: Yediyurappa himself launched a virulent campaign to bring down the man he had put in office sometime ago. He blackmailed the high command to have his way again. And this time Yediyurappa chose to bring back Shettar back into the fold to act as his proxy.
In his overt zeal to get back power, Yediyurappa has introduced in Karnataka politics, the canker of caste politics, which is expected to change the political scenario altogether in the days to come.
Photograph: Karnataka Photo News