BJP&’s National Leadership Failed Its State Unit ~ sam rajappa
ATAL Behari Vajpayee and Lal Kishan Advani built up the Bharatiya Janata Party from scratch to become the ruling party of the nation, albeit in alliance with like-minded parties, in less than two decades. BS Yeddyurappa built up the Karnataka unit of the party in an environment hostile to obscurantist politics south of the Vindhyas in just about three decades to be able to form a government of its own in 2008. In neighbouring Kerala, the BJP is yet to open its account in any Assembly or Lok Sabha election held since the inception of the party in 1980. In Tamil Nadu, without riding piggyback on one of the major Dravidian parties, it has no independent existence. Therefore, it was expected the BJP would treat its 2008 victory in Karnataka as a gateway to the south and do everything possible to nurture its growth and expand to the neighbouring States. Unfortunately, ego clashes of the party&’s top leadership at the national level and personal ambitions of local satraps resulted in its decline and fall in five years of its assuming power.
Circumstances forced Yeddyurappa himself to lead a campaign against the BJP in the April election to the Karnataka Assembly and paved the way for the Congress to return to power after a gap of 14 years with a thumping majority of 122 seats. In the election to the countermanded Periyapatna seat held on 28 May, the BJP candidate was relegated to fourth place, depriving its hopes of emerging at least as the leader of the Opposition in the new Assembly. It is left with 40 seats, the same as the Janata Dal (Secular). The resentment of the people of Karnataka against the BJP government could be gauged from the defeat of 15 out of 17 ministers and the loss of 70 seats compared to its 2008 tally. The party lost 13 per cent of its vote-share. There is hardly any time left to rebuild the shattered party to face the coming Lok Sabha election.
In 2008, Yeddyurappa led the BJP at the hustings shouting from rooftops about rampant corruption of the Congress-led UPA government at the Centre. Though the BJP won only 110 seats in the 224-member Assembly, Yeddyurappa was able to win over enough Independents to give him a working majority through “Operation Kamala,” a euphemism for buying MLAs, with the blessings of the party&’s national leadership. Gali Janardhana Reddy bankrolled the operation. Because of this questionable beginning, the Yeddyurappa government had to turn a blind eye to the shenanigans of the Reddy brothers, Janardhana and Karunakara, both ministers in the first-ever BJP government in Karnataka. Sushma Swaraj, leader of the BJP Opposition in the Lok Sabha, was a frequent house guest of Janardhana Reddy in his Bellary fiefdom and became his political godmother in Delhi when the going was good.
The moment the tide turned against the Reddy brothers and Janardhana Reddy was arrested for illegal mining and jailed in Hyderabad, she dropped him like a hot brick. Other national leaders of the BJP who vied with each other to cultivate the Reddy brothers, began to distance themselves from the disgraced mining barons.
Ananth Kumar, one of the national leaders of the BJP from Karnataka, nursed a grievance that he should have been made the Chief Minister in 2008, though he brought a bad name to the party as civil aviation minister in the NDA government of Vajpayee. He was largely responsible for the humiliating treatment meted out to Yeddyurappa when the State Lokayukta leveled charges of corruption against him. Those in the BJP&’s national leadership who benefited most from the alleged corruption behaved like a pack of wolves hunting Yeddyurappa which tarnished the image of the party beyond refurbishing. Encouraged by a section of the central leadership, the Reddy brothers organised a revolt against Yeddyurappa&’s leadership and nearly brought down his government at one stage. From then on, the Chief Minister was more concerned about safeguarding his bailiwick than on administration of the State which faced unprecedented natural calamities in the first two years of his stewardship. The Union government too played politics by not coming forward with timely relief funds.
There was hardly any developmental activity in the State during the last five years which saw three Chief Ministers. By the time the Assembly election was held in April, the State unit of the BJP was split into three. Yeddyurappa had launched his Karnataka Janata Party and B Sriramulu, a surrogate of the Reddy brothers, had launched the BSR Congress, weakening the parent organisation considerably.
Having occupied the corridors of power in Bangalore, the BJP failed to understand the socio-cultural climate in Karnataka. It was certainly not conducive for Hindutva ideology to take roots. Within months of assuming office, there were a number of attacks on churches across the State by Bajrang Dal activists. The Yeddyurappa government failed to take action against or restrain the activists, lest it offend the RSS ideologues in the party. Self-styled vigilante groups of the Sangh Parivar started cultural policing, targeting boys and girls frequenting pubs. Karnataka is the pub capital of India. Even the media was not spared. Promod Mutalik, leader of the Sri Ram Sene, was allowed to set up Hindu terror training camps which were totally against the ethos of the Kannadigas. The Hindu Jagran Vedike, Hindu Jannajagriti Samithi, Sanathan Sanstha and affiliates of the Sangh Parivar took full advantage of the sympathetic BJP government to terrorise people who did not fall in line. They have exploded bombs and put the blame on the minority community. In short, they tried to use Karnataka as a laboratory to test their techniques which misfired badly when election to the Assembly took place.
As the BJP frittered away its mandate, the Congress did a few smart things to regain power in Karnataka. It amended the Constitution last year to add Section (J) to Article 371, conferring special status on the districts bordering Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra like Bidar, Gulbarga, Yadgir, Raichur, Kopal and Bellary annexed by Karnataka from the erstwhile Nizam of Hyderabad&’s territory. The people of these districts considered the special status a gift from the Congress and showed their gratitude by voting in large numbers for its candidates and helped 25 of them get elected. Another clever move was to enter into a secret understanding between Siddaramaiah, who joined the Congress from the Janata Dal (S) only six years earlier and became the leader of the Opposition in the outgoing Assembly, and Yeddyurappa, who had launched his splinter Karnataka Janata Party, in the mistaken hope the Congress would need the support of his party for a majority in the new Assembly. The Congress emerged with an absolute majority by winning 122 seats in the 224-member Assembly, but its victory in 35 constituencies could be attributed to its understanding with Yeddyurappa.
Mr Advani has said that he is not at all surprised by the Karnataka verdict. “I would have been surprised if we had won,” he said, and added, it had “profound lessons” for the BJP. No party or combination of parties can hope to form a government at the Centre without the majority support of the South accounting for 130 Lok Sabha seats. Kerala, Tamil Nadu and the Union Territory of Pondicherry continue to be out of bounds for the BJP. It has a small presence in Andhra Pradesh which is not enough to carry it across the Vindhyas. Karnataka opened the gateway to the south for the BJP but the BJP itself barricaded that gateway. No wonder Advani finds profound lessons for the BJP in the trouncing the party received from the enlightened electorate of Karnataka.
The writer is a veteran journalist and former Director of The Statesman Print Journalism School