Can Bjp Recover In Karnataka? “L” factor is party’s major and biggest predicament
Smarting under the crushing defeat suffered in the just concluded Assembly elections, the Karnataka BJP unit is still not recovered to fix the date and time for “introspection” and to undertake “course correction”. Former party president Nitin Gadkari, who oversaw the elections of the leaders in both the Houses of Legislature in the meeting held on Tuesday, told a few journalists that the state leadership will fix some other date for a brain-storming session.
“But there is no need for the party to worry over the results. We have always seen that the people have voted for one party in one election and have changed their preference to another party in the next elections. In that way, we are going to win the next Lok Sabha elections,” Gadkari told the legislators and state leaders during the meeting. That was some sort of the much-needed morale boosting words for the state leadership, which was crestfallen and gasping for breath. The faces of two national general secretaries, Ananth Kumar and Dharmendra Pradhan, were downcast and stony.
Notwithstanding these words of Gadkari, it is indeed a daunting task for the BJP to revive itself. Two factors should work in a powerful and strong manner for the BJP to stage a comeback first in the Lok Sabha elections and later in the Assembly polls.
One; there must be a strong national factor—preferably with an emotional angle—throughout the country in favour of BJP that would make the people forget caste, community, region and vote en masse in favour of BJP, something that was witnessed in 1991 in the aftermath of the Somnath-Ayodhya Rath Yatra. If not for the assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in May 1991, the BJP in Karnataka would have won about nine seats and in the entire country about 150 seats.
How and what issue would the BJP pick up to create a powerful pro-saffron party wave with an emotional angle is to be keenly watched. It also depends who the BJP is going to project as its Prime Ministerial candidate.
Secondly, the BJP must be able to win back the large chunk of Lingayat community votes, which otherwise was the party’s strong electoral base which started growing slowly but surely since 1994. With the exit of former Chief Minister B S Yeddyurappa from the BJP, this community has followed him and his fledgling party, KJP (Karnataka Janata Party) got 10 per cent of votes though it won only six seats. It stood second in 37 constituencies. For a party that was started only in December, this feat is something laudable.
In this background, it is imperative for the BJP to win over Lingayat community votes in large number. Tempermantally, Lingayat community goes behind a strong leader. In 1989, the Lingayat community voted Congress in a large number because Late Veerendra Patil, a strong Lingayat leader from Chincholi in Gulbarga district, was projected as chief ministerial candidate. The Congress got 178 out of 224 seats and Veerendra Patil became chief minister. That was 1989. In one year, the Congress kicked out Veerendra Patil; the Lingayaths, too, kicked out Congress in 1994. After Patil was removed, Lingayat community shifted its loyalty to Janata Dal in the 1994 elections because of leaders like Ramakrishna Hegde, J H Patel and M P Prakash.
Similarly, the Lingayat community, which has shifted its loyalty from BJP to Yeddyurappa’s KJP, needs to be brought back. Who is going to do that? Former Chief Minister Jagadish Shettar, a Lingayat from Hubli, has failed to do so. It is evident in the just concluded elections. The BJP has lost deposit in 110 Assembly seats, almost 50 per cent of the total 224 seats. It means the community regards Yeddyurappa as its sole leader.
MLC SHOTS OFF LETTER TO ADVANI, SUSPENDED
This is something unheard of in BJP’s annals; questioning its supremo and patriarch L K Advani and almost accusing him of not being impartial, objective and dispassionate, that, too, through the media.
Karnataka BJP MLC Lehar Singh Siroya shot off a three-page strongly worded letter to Advani on May 13. He has questioned the latter whether he was right in criticising former Chief Minister B S Yeddyurappa on the issue of corruption.
In the on-going subtle but not so subtle fight for supremacy in the BJP, Lehar Singh’s letter to Advani is only a text, and any text needs a context for greater clarity and to understand it in proper perspective. But before going to the text and context, let’s look at some of the pointed questions posed by Lehar Singh to Advani.
“When senior BJP leaders, including leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, Sushma Swaraj, were receiving bouquets from Bellary mining barons periodically, why did you not stop them or at-least caution them of imminent problems? Did you find out how Yeddyurappa managed huge sums of money when the party won 19 Lok Sabha seats, in order to make you the Prime Minister? What is the rationale in criticising Yeddyurappa now?” Lehar Singh has asked.
Sharing a portion of the loot is like an insurance cover; there is protection in it. And shoving a portion of the loot to the top gives you immunity at least to a great extent. Yeddyurappa got both, insurance cover as well as immunity; but his luck ran out when the maturity period for immunity bond as well as for insurance cover was over. He had to put in his papers, when his name was “made to figure” in the Lok Ayukta report submitted by Justice Santosh Hegde on illegal mining.
Whether it was deliberate on the part of Lehar Singh to leak his letter to a section of media or not, is not known. But surely the letter-bomb has all the potential to cause a stir in the saffron party, during its national executive meeting slated in June in Goa.
Karnataka BJP unit was quick to suspend Lehar Singh and issue show cause notice. “This was expected. If somebody cannot reply to these questions because they are inconvenient, then I have nothing to say,” Lehar Singh remarked.
Lehar Singh’s May 13 letter was leaked to the media on May 16. Exactly one week before, that is on May 11, BJP national vice president and former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Uma Bharati had taken pot shots at Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi on the issue of prime ministerial candidate. “Just because crowds assemble and one can tease Congress, nobody can become prime ministerial material. It is only Advani who has the necessary calibre to occupy the highest post,” Uma Bharati had said.
Two days after this statement by Uma Bharati, Lehar Singh chose to shot off a letter to Advani, who is being projected by the media as Modi’s bête noire. To be fair to both Advani and Modi, neither of the two has pointed fingers at each other, even indirectly. But it is also true that neither of the two has made any concerted efforts to correct the picture.
What has lent credence to the theory which has the potential of inciting internal fight in BJP is that Modi is believed to be soft towards Yeddyurappa, while Advani has been vocal in criticising the Lingayat strongman, in his public speeches as well as in his writings in his blogs. This has not gone well with many in the BJP, including Rajnath Singh, but nobody is in a position to confront Advani, given his stature, standing and contribution for the growth of the party.
But what is inexplicable, or rather, too, shocking, is the fact that no leader of some stature in the BJP central leadership rushed to Advani’s defence and criticised Lehar Singh for his insinuations against the party’s tallest leader. Their silence is as deafening as it is eloquent. Suspension of Lehar Singh by Karnataka BJP unit is a mere clerical approach, to put it in mild terms. There ought to have been a strong defence for Advani, which is conspicuous by its absence. What does it show and mean?
It is also being said that Yeddyurappa could be shooting at Advani by keeping his guns on the shoulders of Lehar Singh, who enjoys good rapport with the former Chief Minister. By aiming at Advani, Yeddyurappa is actually targeting his sancho panza, Ananth Kumar, who—according to Yeddyurappa—was instrumental in creating a situation for his exit, first from chief ministers’s post and later from the BJP.
The BJP has realised that it cannot revive itself in Karnataka without the support of a large chunk of Lingayat community, which, at present, is backing Yeddyurappa. The BJP, which is aiming at Delhi, will be forced to persuade Yeddyurappa to become “a prodigal son” or at least be a partner of the NDA. Lehar Singh’s strongly-worded letter to Advani is a calculated move to prevent him (Advani) from having his way. (SAHK)
For the BJP central leadership in general and L K Advani in particular, Yeddyurappa is a pariah; a corrupt man who should not be touched even with a barge pole. Some in the BJP central leadership went to the extent of saying that the exit of Yeddyurappa was a much-needed healthy purge; the party is now cleansed; it is now healthy. The electorate dealt a crushing blow to this healthy party, which means that the people were angry against the BJP for its “abominable conduct & behavior” though its “performance in some of the fronts was reasonably well,” if not remarkable. So, it is not entirely correct to say that the eating away of BJP votes by Yeddyurappa was solely responsible for BJP’s defeat. There was negative wave against the BJP.
Meanwhile, look at Advani’s party in Karnataka. None of the 36 chairmen of Boards and Corporations resigned from their posts immediately after the BJP lost the May 5 Assembly elections. The party had 120 members in the previous assembly and its number came down to 40. Congress had a clear majority of 121 in a house of 224, when the counting took place on May 8. It was clear as day light that the Congress would form the government.
It was a matter of shame and disgust that all the chairmen waited for the new chief minister to issue a written notice to them asking them to resign on May 16, when on the other hand, they ought to have resigned in the afternoon of May 8, when the results were announced. What were they waiting for? An extension? Or at least a warm send off?
Let’s think that these chairmen are ordinary mortals and have no conscience. But what were the bigwigs in the party doing? In BJP, general secretary in-charge of organisation is considered to be its heart, brain and spine.
A BALANCING ACT
Former Chief Minister Jagadish Shettar has been elected as the Leader of the 40-member BJP group in the Legislative Assembly. Former Deputy Chief Minister R Ashoka has been made the deputy leader. Similarly, former Chief Minister D V Sadananda Gowda has been made the leader in the Legislative Council, who will take over as the leader of the Opposition. Its deputy leader is K B Shanappa.
While Shettar is a Lingayat, Ashoka is a Vokkaliga. The BJP has balanced the two communities. While Sadananda Gowda is a Vokkaliga, Shanappa is a Dalit. There again the BJP has managed to strike a balance, though the Brahmins and OBCs have been left over.
In this case it was Santosh and V Sateesh, both RSS pracharaks, who lead a Spartan life. While Santosh is the general secretary in-charge of organisation,V Sateesh is the joint general secretary in-charge of party’s south India. They ought to have directed their chairmen to quit the posts and return to the party work immediately after the defeat.
Were they too shocked to silence following the defeat or did they want their chairmen to enjoy the power and position for a few more days?
More than anybody else, party’s grass-roots cadres who continue to remain unblemished and do not carry with them any kind of taint expected party national general secretary Ananth Kumar a direct disciple of Advani—or former law minister S Suresh Kumar supposed to be morally strong—to put in a word or two to the state president Prahlad Joshi to direct all the chairmen to resign forthwith. But it was not to come. Both maintained silence and their silence was eloquent. It was only after the senior officials in the office of chief secretary started to call the personnel staff of all chairmen, they put in their papers.
Will the BJP’s central leadership invite Yeddyurappa to rejoin the party or at least persuade him to be a part of the NDA as its partner in order to get Lingayat votes? In that case, what will happen to the allegation of corruption made by BJP against Yeddyurappa? What will the leaders say in that event (if Yeddyurappa is invited) after having said that Yeddyurappa’s exit has made the party healthy and strong? This “L” (Lingayat) factor, indeed, is BJP’s major, sole and biggest predicament.
Yeddyurappa, on his part, has made it clear that there is no question of re-joining BJP. But, will Yeddyurappa at least agree to be part of the NDA as its partner? Time and Yeddyurappa will have to answer this question.
By S A Hemantha Kumar from Bengaluru