Advantage Yeddyurappa

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Remember Yeddyyurappa, the former BJP chief minister of Karnataka? The criminal prosecution clouds over him are lifting and there’s every possibility he will return to his state to prepare the ground for Assembly polls in 2018. His chances look good given the poor performance of the ruling Congress and divisions within the JD(S) . By RAMAKRISHNA UPADHYA

Karnataka is not yet on the radar of the BJP’s national leadership, as the state will go to polls only by May 2018. There are elections in Assam, Tamil Nadu, Punjab, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh before that for the party leadership to fine tune their strategies.

But the debacle in Delhi and Bihar, where the BJP suffered heavy defeats despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself leading the campaign, would have taught the party some hard lessons: People voted overwhelmingly for Modi in the 2014 parliamentary elections, but when it comes to state elections they would like to see a strong local leader whom they can trust, being projected.

YEDDYURAPPA RETURNS?

The BJP in Karnataka has a readymade choice in this regard: BS Yeddyurappa (BSY), the former chief minister. He is the unquestioned leader among the numerically strong Lingayat community and had played a significant role in bringing the BJP to power in 2008. In the euphoria that followed, Karnataka was seen as BJP’s gateway to the south, with dreams of establishing itself in the Deccan region.

But in Karnataka, the BJP made the fatal mistake of depending heavily on Janardhana Reddy, a mining crook who made hundreds of crores through illegal mining of high quality iron ore and their export, and who was seeking political legitimacy to further expand his business. Reddy had built nice bridges with the national leadership of the BJP as well, notably, Sushma Swaraj, and BSY had no hesitation in taking him in as a cabinet minister. When the BJP went on the ‘Operation Lotus’ spree luring legislators from the Congress and the JDS, it was Reddy who splashed money like water.

For over two years, Reddy was allowed to control the two ore-rich districts of Bellary and Chitradurga as his unchallenged fiefdom to loot and pillage, with the official machinery looking the other way. But, when the then Lokayukta, Justice Santosh Hegde turned the heat on Yeddyurappa, everything began to unravel. Yeddyurappa was forced to crack down on Reddy’s empire and the latter took revenge on his benefactor by mobilizing about 45 legislators against him.

Reddy’s clout with the national leadership of the BJP ran pretty deep at that time and except for LK Advani, the others dilly-dallied on backing Yeddyurappa against Reddy’s machinations, which proved to be a political blunder. A strong Lokayukta report indicting Yeddyurappa in the mining scam forced him to resign as chief minister and, in the course of a little over two years, the BJP’s internal squabbling put Sadananda Gowda in the chief minister’s chair for 11 months, followed by Jagadish Shettar.

By the time the Assembly elections arrived in May 2013, Yeddyurappa had walked out of the BJP and formed his own outfit, the Karnataka Janata Party (KJP), whose main agenda was to defeat the BJP. When the results were announced, it was clear that Yeddyurappa had achieved his purpose: KJP had won only 5 seats, but by garnering nearly 10 per cent of the votes, it had sunk BJP to a mere 40 seats, paving the way for the Congress to return to power.

It was a bitter lesson for both Yeddyurappa and the BJP. Before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, BSY returned to the BJP and contributed to the Modi wave to ensure a handsome 17 out of 28 seats to the BJP’s kitty. BSY is now a Lok Sabha member along with his son Raghavendra, but Karnataka remains his focus. He had expressed his desire more than once to return to head the state party unit with the goal of winning back power in 2018. The party brass was also inclined to accept his demand, except that it was worried about the cases pending against him in various courts.

The political churn in the BJP is happening at a time when Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, despite 30 months in office, has presided over a poorly performing government

In the last few weeks, the clouds appear to have suddenly lifted. In November, the Karnataka High Court set aside the sanction for BSY’s prosecution granted by HR Bhardwaj, then governor in 2011, in connection with the denotification of land in and around Bengaluru. The governor had permitted two advocates, Sirajuddin Basha and KN Balraj, to file private complaints against BSY. They alleged that BSY had misused his official position to grant favours to his kith and kin, friends and political followers and helped them acquire lands worth crores of rupees.

The division bench headed by chief justice SK Mukherjee accepted BSY’s contention that the governor had bypassed norms while approving prosecution and that the complaints were politically motivated. The court did not look into the merits of the case. Following this order, on Dec 1, the Lokayukta court also quashed four FIRs pending against Yeddyurappa. These included the illegal allotment of sites to his son and son-in-law and some property developers.

With the Damocles sword of criminal prosecution lifted, Yeddyurappa, who was earlier denied a place in the Modi cabinet and also not considered for heading the state unit, could be anointed state president any time soon.

SIDDARAMAIAH/OPPOSITION WOES

The political churn in the BJP is happening at a time when Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, despite 30 months in office, has presided over a poorly performing, lacklustre government. A severe drought, said to be the worst in the last 40 years, has hit the state, more than 600 farmers have reportedly committed suicide in the last five months, agricultural production and agricultural incomes have been badly hit, industrial production is down due to severe shortage of electricity but the government remains largely apathetic and unresponsive.

When Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi toured some of the places where farmers had committed suicide, as many as 15 ministers absented themselves, but the party failed to take any action against them.

The Deve Gowda-led JD(S) is also riven by factionalism as senior legislators Cheluvarayaswamy, Jameer Ahmed Khan and HG Balakrishna openly defy Gowda’s son, former chief minister and state president, HD Kumaraswamy. Here too the party is unable to act against them. Almost half of the 40-member legislature party is waiting to jump the sinking ship at the opportune moment.

In the given scenario, if Yeddyurappa were to be put in charge of the BJP, he could draw upon his past experience and galvanize the party faithful to fight the next election. With Modi and Amit Shah having been humbled twice in less than six months, they will be acutely aware of the need to prop up regional satraps to regain their own sagging credibility in the party.

Summary

  • BS Yeddyurappa is on a high after court cases pending against him were quashed, he wants to fight the 2018 Assembly polls in Karnataka
  • His chances look good given that Modi and Shah have failed twice consecutively, to win key states and need strong local satraps
  • The ruling Congress has performed poorly so far and the JD(S) is a divided house with key members waiting to jump ship
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