Assertion of BJP satraps

The change of guard in Karnataka is yet another example of how the regional satraps are becoming more important in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) than the central leaders. The transformation is only to be expected in the terminal stages of the Atal Behari Vajpayee - L K Advani era. As long as these two stalwarts were there, the party’s politicians at the provincial level played a subservient role. Now, they have begun to assert themselves.

The first to do so was Narendra Modi. Now, it is the turn of B S Yeddyurappa. It also has to be noted that leaders like Raman Singh in Chhattisgarh and Shivraj Singh Chauhan in Madhya Pradesh have been enjoying a free run in their states although their low key style, unlike Modi’s and Yeddyurappa’s, keeps them out of the public eye at the national level. But, there is little doubt that they regard themselves as masters in their domains who have little time for the central leaders.

While this transfer of authority from the central to the states can be said to be in conformity with the country’s federal norms, what will be worth noting in the coming days is how this will affect the BJP’s functioning. As a supposedly centralised party, which depends on the cadres provided by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and affiliated organisations like the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), Bajrang Dal and the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyathi Parishad to spread its message, the BJP is a right-wing version of the communist parties with an emphasis on discipline, ideology and a dedicated band of followers.

But, this might no longer be the case as when there were leaders at the Centre who commanded respect like Vajpayee and, to some extent, Advani. Now, the discipline may have started to fray along with the ideology. As Yeddyurappa’s ability to arm-twist the central leaders into appointing his nominees as chief ministers twice in succession – first D V Sadanand Gowda and then Jagadish Shettar – shows, there has been considerable erosion in the authority of the central leadership.

Nor is this surprising in view of Advani’s advanced years and Arun Jaitley’s lack of a mass base while it is open to question how important the former 'socialist' Sushma Swaraj is in the pecking order after some of her recent bloomers during the run-up to the presidential polls which showed her to be a poor tactician. Besides, the apparent tension between these three prime ministerial aspirants has also weakened their positions.

In contrast, the display of Yeddyurappa’s clout has been quite impressive, not least because of the cloud of corruption hanging over him which made the BJP keep him away from the anti-corruption rallies which it organised some months ago directed against the Congress in tandem with Anna Hazare’s movement. But, when it came to the complaints against the Karnataka strong man, sections in the BJP were eager to seize the opportunity provided by the Karnataka high court’s rejection of the Lokayukta’s charges against him to suggest that he be made the chief minister again. Even the Lokayukta Santosh Hegde’s connections with Anna Hazare were cited against him.

What the latest events have indicated is how the BJP is currently more interested in playing the caste card instead of banking on communalism as it has always done. There is little doubt that the Lingayat factor, the caste to which Yeddyurappa and Shetter belong, is of greater importance to the BJP at present than Hindutva. It is possible, of course, that the BJP will return to minority-bashing if it begins to lose ground in Karnataka.

But, what is significant is that Hindutva has taken a back seat for the party in both Karnataka and Gujarat. While Modi’s focus in Gujarat is on development, Yeddyurappa’s is on exploiting casteism to consolidate his, and the party’s, position in Karnataka although the party clearly comes second in his calculations in this respect.

More important, however, than the sidelining of the Ram temple agenda by the BJP – the 'soul' of the party – is the blind eye which it has turned towards the charges of corruption against Yeddyurappa. Evidently, the latter is believed to have too strong a political base to be ignored in the way Sushma Swaraj treated the Bellary brothers. But, this dalliance with sleaze cannot but hurt the party at the national level where it will always be at a disadvantage in this respect vis-à-vis the Congress. The party will also be in serious trouble if the Karnataka voters look unkindly on the BJP’s cynicism.

Even if the Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular) do not appear to be in a position to regain the electorate’s trust, any improvement in their position will be a blow to Yeddyurappa and, even more so, to the BJP’s hopes of strengthening its position in its only southern base.
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