Cracking in Karnataka

article

After the good showing in the northeast recently, the BJP has high hopes of taking this one bastion, but there are too many dissenters within to tide over the crisis

G Ulaganathan

G Ulaganathan

The author is a senior journalist based in Bangalore and has worked with two major English dailies, the Indian Express and Deccan Herald, He is also a visiting professor to a number of universities and colleges and writes for NYT. Currently, he is Bureau Chief (South) of Parliamentarian

Who is the main opposition to the Bharatiya Janata Party in the ensuing Assembly elections in Karnataka? Congress of course, one would say.

But the Bharatiya Janata Party is facing a bigger threat from within. Though the party president Amit Shah had openly declared that the former chief minister BS Yeddyurappa would be the chief minster if the party was elected to power, not all are agreeable. BSY’s rivals and critics are confident that he will not make it and the party would only use him till the elections, and in the post-election scenario, a dark horse may emerge winner, as it happened in Uttar Pradesh.

Their confidence comes from two or three factors:

• BSY turned 75 on February 27. That, according to Modi’s principle, rules him out of holding an elected office. He can at best have a party post or made Governor or some state like Najma Heptullah.

• He was the first chief minister to go to jail on corruption charges and serious allegations of his closeness to the mining lobby in Bellary which is accused of swindling the natural wealth.

• Prime Minister Modi, till date, has not openly said BSY would be the chief minister, if elected to power. Knowing how he brought in someone like Yogi Adityanath in UP from nowhere, these dissidents have not lost hope in Karnataka as well.

Yeddyurappa, being a darling of the innumerable mutts in the state to whom he had doled out largesse liberally when he was CM, the party hopes to corner a major chunk of Lingayat votes.

And, he still remains the only known face in the party, and others like Union Ministers Ananth Kumar and Sadanand Gowda are considered lightweights.

Shahi Games

Political observers feel that BJP would use his campaign skills, get votes and later quoting his age factor may dump him—either deny him chief ministership or keep him to warm the bench for a year or so before someone can replace him.

And none knows this better than Yeddyurappa himself. Therefore, he has been keeping a low profile, even while attacking the Siddaramaiah government. While he cannot stand the sight of Union Minister Ananth Kumar, he has been engaged in a war of words with the former deputy chief minister K Eshwarappa as well.

Even when BSY was CM, both never saw eye to eye and Eshwarappa went on to launch Sangolli Rayanna Brigade (a strong forum for backward and most backward classes) and carried on a campaign against BSY for supporting the Lingayats and other forward castes and not doing anything for Dalits and other backward classes.

Yeddyurappa and Eshwarappa, both hailing from Shimoga, have been at loggerheads ever since the first BJP government was formed under Yeddyurappa in 2008. As a minister in that government, Eshwarappa first began expressing his displeasure at the “autocratic functioning” of Yeddyurappa in 2009.

In 2013, Yeddyurappa was removed from the BJP following corruption charges. He formed his own outfit, which split the vote in the Assembly elections later that year, sending the party to a loss against the Congress. In 2014, he was brought back to the party, helping it to win 17 Lok Sabha seats. The former chief minister managed to win from Shimoga, a seat in which Eshwarappa finished fourth in the 2013 Assembly elections.

Fuelled Fire

Ever since Yeddyurappa’s return, their feud has intensified. In what seemed to be an acknowledgement of Yeddyurappa’s popularity, the national leadership last year decided to appoint him as the chief ministerial candidate for the 2018 Assembly elections. This came close to Yeddyurappa’s acquittal in a disproportionate assets case filed by the Central Bureau of Investigation.

He is still angry with BSY and loses no opportunity to hit out against him.

Though Amit Shah has reined him in for now and brought in some kind of temporary peace, it is highly doubtful if Eshwarappa will back BSY for CM.

Ananth Kumar, on the other hand, has been mollified with two major portfolios at the Centre, Fertiliser and Chemicals as well as Parliamentary Affairs. BSY never fails to make fun of him and sharing sensitive information about Ananth Kumar’s `deals’ with the friendly media.

Hindutva Hotshots

There is also another voice of dissident, the new kid on the block, Ananth Kumar Hegde. Though he is not openly expressing his feelings, he has been carefully building a base of his own. His followers have already been spreading the word around that he may emerge as that dark horse if BJP is voted to power. Hegde has been very vocal on Hindutva and by his words and deeds has ruffled a few feathers as well. A popular actor Prakash Raj has emerged as a strong critic of the BJP, thanks to Hegde taking pot-shots him.

Coming down heavily on the BJP leadership, Hegde and the groups that “attack free expression”, Prakash Raj has said he was “not anti-Hindu”, but “anti-Modi, anti-Amit Shah and anti-Hegde”. “They say I am anti-Hindu. No. I am anti-(Narendra) Modi, I am anti-Hegde, I

am anti-Amit Shah. According to me, they are not Hindus. Mr Anant Kumar Hegde, who says he wants to wipe out

an ‘ism’, a religion from the face of this earth cannot be a Hindu,” Prakash Raj says.

Raj also attacked the state governments that have banned the film “Padmaavat” and groups opposing its release.

“These state governments are citing reasons of law and order. They should step down because they are not fit to be there in the first place. Or accept that with power, we are arm-twisting. Then they should be sent out by us. So, it is very clear that they want to stall, they want to cater to a fringe group... It is a very straight (and) blatant attack on free expression,” Raj says. He also referred to BJP activists “cleaning” a place in Karnataka a few days ago with ‘gomutra’ (cow urine), where he spoke against Hegde for his reported comments that the Constitution should be changed.

“My prime minister should ask his minister, an elected, mandated minister, not to say that a religion should be wiped out from the earth. That is not Hinduism. If my prime minister does not ask his minister to shut up, then I am asking (sic) my prime minister you are also not a Hindu,” he said.

Singh Song!

In another surprising development, according to certain media reports, BJP MLC Lehar Singh Siroya, who had stood by Yeddyurappa throughout, has also reportedly distanced himself from BSY.

Sources say the two are not even on talking terms for the past few months now. Earlier, Yeddyurappa had depended a lot on Singh to interact with central leaders. On many occasions, Singh had acted as an emissary of Yeddyurappa to negotiate with the top brass.

On sensing the strained relationship between the two, detractors of Yeddyurappa have reportedly lured Singh to their side. Singh is now reportedly close to BJP national organising joint secretary, BL Santhosh. Explains Singh, “BJP leader and Council member V Somanna yelled at me in the House a few months back while raising issues pertaining to the Sangolli Rayanna Brigade. He accused me of complaining to Yeddyurappa that he was funding activities of the Eshwarappa-headed Brigade. Hurt by this, I decided to keep away from controversies.”

Some sources say other prominent BJP leaders like DS Veeraiah, BJ Puttaswamy and Aravind Limbavali too have distanced themselves from Yeddyurappa because of the growing clout of his PA Santhosh and Udupi-Chikkamagaluru BJP MP Shobha Karandlaje.

Unstoppable Swamy

Subramanian Swamy is another fly in the ointment for the BJP. On the one hand, he strongly supported Sasikala to become the chief minister of Tamil Nadu and had even attacked the then Governor Vidyasagar Rao of playing partisan politics. On the other hand, he comes out with such embarrassing statements like, “I might be the second most popular person in the party after Modi”.

Subramanian Swamy also bluntly spelt out in a recent interview with HuffPost India that Hindutva, and not Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s personal appeal, was the key factor behind the Bharatiya Janata Party’s recent electoral triumphs.

Swamy is neither a minister nor an elected lawmaker currently, but the six-time parliamentarian has established himself in the public eye as an anti-corruption crusader and an ardent advocate of Hindu nationalism.

With over four million followers on Twitter and an ever burgeoning list of speaking assignments at home and abroad, the Rajya Sabha MP sees himself as the second most popular BJP leader after Modi. Why has the party not taken any action against him even when he openly attacked Finance Minister Arun Jaitley? Swamy says it is because of his knowledge of economics and the law — indirectly indicating that he knew better law and economics than Jaitley. Swamy often invokes his academic credentials, the fact that he used to teach economics at Harvard University and the way he stood up to the then prime minister Indira Gandhi during the Emergency.

He praises the ‘magnificent governance’ done by Morarji Desai, who lost the election; NarasimhaRao, who transformed the Indian economy completely but lost the election; and Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who spoke about ‘India Shining’, but ended up losing very badly.

He also lets out some party secrets as this one: “In UP, when the MLAs met (after BJP’s victory) they actually selected someone else — Manoj Sinha. But the MLAs were restive. They started going and telling people who were making the decision, essentially the RSS, Amit Shah and so on. Then, Modi changed his mind. All the anglicised BJP people feel Yogi’s is not a good face to project”

Is he in a position to advice Modi? “No point there. The Trump phenomenon should now make it clear to you. Now, political correctness is no longer a virtue. Political correctness is dead.” Swamy also never misses an opportunity to express his disappointment and anger at Modi for not including him in the cabinet. When the media ask him if he wanted a position in the cabinet, he said tongue-in-cheek: “Selecting ministers is the prerogative of the prime minister. Am I qualified, yes. But I come with a baggage. I have my own mind. I’m not going to do what other ministers do depending on secretaries. I would love to be the finance minister. I’d turn the country around; it’s in a mess. Exports and imports have simultaneously declined, year after year, for the past three years. How can the exports and imports both decline? It means we’re heading for a crash. I think the economy needs a new lease of life.”

With friends like Subramanian Swamy in the party, do Modi and Amit Shah need enemies?

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