Will it take the Janata out of the BJP in Karnataka?
BANGALORE The launch of former Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa’s own political outfit, the Karnataka Janatha Paksha (KJP), has sounded the poll bugle in the state. Since the new party came into being at Haveri on 9 December, the current BJP dispensation in Bangalore has been reduced to a minority government.
While Assembly elections are due only in May 2013, polls might be held sooner, as the BJP—the party Yeddyurappa has quit—is expected to go into convulsions in the state. A large number of elected and nominated representatives of the BJP have already started making a beeline to join the KJP.
At the Haveri inauguration, sharing the spotlight with Yeddyurappa were a state minister, two Lok Sabha MPs (including his son, Shimoga MP, BY Raghavendra) 14 MLAs and a handful of MLCs—an impressive show of support to go with an estimated crowd of 100,000 in attendance. This flexing of muscle came even as the state legislature met in Belgaum’s new Suvarna Vidhana Soudha complex, funds for which had ironically been sanctioned by Yeddyurappa to thwart Maharashtra’s claims to this border-area city.
Yeddyurappa has been openly soliciting support from politicians in the BJP, though he keeps saying that he would not like to topple its government. “This is an era where strong regional parties are emerging in Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and other states. Karnataka too needs one and we should not miss the opportunity,” he told supporters in Bangalore a few days ago when he formally resigned from the state legislature. He also severed his connection with the RSS, which had mentored his political career all these years.
Forced to step down as CM in July 2011 on corruption-related charges, Yeddyurappa was assured by his party’s central leadership that he would be reinstated once the scandal cooled off. But with the CBI still probing one of the cases in which his family trust had allegedly been a beneficiary, the BJP’s top bosses were in no mood to humour his ambitions of returning to power, nor take seriously his threats of breaking away to form his own political entity. “He may have delivered the first BJP government in the South, but that is no reason that we should buckle under [his] threats. He has no morals left and the electorate will show him his place,” says a BJP MP opposed to Yeddyurappa who does not want to be named.
The big question, of course, is whether the KJP has a chance of becoming a political force in the state. How many BJP members switch over is under close watch. “I have 50 BJP MLAs waiting to join me. They will come at the appropriate time,” claims a confident Yeddyurappa.
In the electoral arena, Yeddyurappa is relying heavily on his Lingayat vote bank (a bloc that accounts for 17 per cent of the state’s electorate), apart from the goodwill of Muslims and members of ‘Backward’ groups that are seen to have gained from state welfare programmes while he was CM. In fact, his public rallies in both Bangalore and Haveri were attended by a large number of Muslims; it has helped his cause that Jabbar Khan Honnali, a local Muslim leader and former Congress MLA, has joined the KJP.
Multiple signs are in evidence of the party’s proposed social engineering formula for victory: Lingayats, Muslims and Backward Classes. Will it work? In terms of numbers, if the KJP scores a high strike rate among voters of these groups, this could prove a successful combination. But that is on paper. In reality, it will be no easy task—with the opposition Congress and JD-S (not to speak of a BJP bristling with indignation) watching closely and preparing to keep their traditional support groups from being lured away.
The Congress has asked the BJP’s CM Jagadish Shettar to resign and call for fresh polls, but none of the parties is prepared for a snap poll. They would rather watch the fun from the sidelines as the BJP disintegrates. The Congress is smug that such an eventuality could help it capture power in Bangalore after a gap of more than six years.
Recall that the Congress and JD-S shared power after the 2004 polls under the leadership of the Congress’ Dharam Singh. After 18 months, the JD-S walked out of the coalition and formed a government with the BJP. They were both to share the CM’s position for terms of 20 months each, but the JD-S’s HD Kumaraswamy reneged on the deal, an event that led to fresh polls in May 2008. It was in these that the BJP secured a wafer thin majority supported by a few independents.