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BJP’s gateway to south, or highway to disaster
Published on 5 Nov. 2009 11:02 PM IST
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The ongoing power struggle in the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) first government in Karnataka threatens to shatter the party’s dream to make the state a launch pad for ruling southern India. The turmoil in Karnataka, proudly proclaimed as the party’s gateway to the south, is sure to have a debilitating impact on BJP’s future in the state, whatever be the compromise hammered out at Delhi to save the government from going under. The party can ill afford to agree to the demand of the dissident ministers and legislators, led by the billionaire Reddy brothers, to throw out B.S. Yeddyurappa as chief minister. Yeddyurappa, a veteran who joined the party via the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), belongs to the politically strong Lingayat community that makes up around 14 percent of the state’s estimated 55 million population. A substantial section of Lingayats is believed to back BJP. However, rejecting the demand for Yeddyurappa’s removal could mean the loss of the financial clout the dissident leaders, Tourism Minister G. Janardhana Reddy and his elder brother and Revenue Minister G. Karunakara Reddy, have brought to the party. The Reddy brothers are billionaire iron ore mining magnates from the iron ore rich Bellary district, about 400 km from Bangalore. Most of their mines are, however, in Obulapuram in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh. The Reddy brothers are believed to have bankrolled the operation to acquire a majority for the party after the May 2008 assembly polls when it won 110 out of the 224 elected seats in the 225-member assembly. The Reddys first won over six Independents which helped installation of the Yeddyurappa ministry. Five of the Independents were made ministers as a reward. However, eager to reduce the dependence on the Independents, the party again turned to the Reddys to ensure success of its Operation Lotus (lotus is BJP’s election symbol) to lure legislators from the Congress and the Janata Dal-Secular. Operation Lotus was launched despite stiff opposition from within the party ranks, which feared it would sully BJP’s image as a party that stood for clean politics. Seven of these joined BJP and won in by-polls. The party’s ambition of being in power on its own was realised as it now had 117 legislators. With five Independents continuing to be ministers, the effective strength of the ruling party is 122, a comfortable majority. The BJP now seems to be paying for the hurry to turn the gateway into an autobahn as the majority position in the assembly came with a price tag. The Reddys expected to be rewarded with a dominant role in running the party and the government. When that did not come through, they began fuming within months of ministry formation. The situation reached a crisis about three months ago and it needed senior leader Arun Jaitley rushing to Bangalore to pacify the Reddy brothers. But this time they have gone for the kill. They want Yeddyurappa out and their man installed as chief minister. The turmoil has continued for 10 days and pleadings by Jaitley, party president Rajnath Singh and senior leader L. K. Advani have been rejected by the Reddys, who claim that the majority of the legislators are supporting them. Even Sushma Swaraj, who is considered to be close to the Reddy brothers, has failed to make them relent. The Reddys joined the BJP just 10 years ago, ahead of the 1999 Lok Sabha polls and canvassed for Swaraj who contested from Bellary against Congress president Sonia Gandhi. Any compromise in this backdrop may not be more than a patchwork that would not last long, leaving governance in a shambles. With such a tentative future ahead, the BJP cannot hope to hold its performance as an example to voters in the other three southern states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. BJP has no presence in Kerala. In Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu it depends heavily on the whims of regional parties to be a player of some importance. The Karnataka mess has scuttled the hopes of an early lotus bloom in the other three southern states.

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