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Karnataka yatra exposes Advani’s waning influence

By V.S. Karnic,IANS,

Bangalore : L.K. Advani, once hailed by his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as ‘Loh Purush’ or iron man, second only to India’s formidable first home minister Sardar Patel, is no longer so – at least for his party’s Karnataka unit.

That is the message the Karnataka BJP, which is ruling the state for the first time, sent out to the party veteran when he came here Oct 30 to address a public meeting as part of his Jan Chetna Yatra, a nationwide roadshow against corruption.

Matching Advani’s waning influence over the party is the Karnataka unit, reducing the state – once seen as the BJP’s gateway to ruling southern India – into a minefield of scandals and den of dissidence.

Around a dozen ministers, that is, nearly one third of the cabinet, did not attend Advani’s public meeting. All of them are known loyalists of arrested former chief minister B.S. Yeddyurappa.

They were against Advani touring the state to talk against corruption when their local chieftain was behind bars in not one, but two corruption and illegal land deal cases, and facing possible arrest again in three more similar cases.

They tried using the media to loudly convey to their once undisputed leader that he is not welcome in the state at this point of time.

They told reporters here, of course on condition of anonymity, that Advani had cancelled the Bangalore public meeting and will confine his yatra to party strongholds in the coastal districts, over 350 km away from the state capital.

But Advani did not take the hint.

He is now said to be seeking from the harried state leadership reasons for such a large number of ministers staying away from his yatra, not only in Bangalore but also in the coastal districts.

He will have to be satisfied with whatever explanations or excuses are offered to him, for ‘disciplinary action’ against absentee ministers could split the party and bring down the BJP government which still has about 18 months to rule.

With various explanations failing to provide convincing answers for their absence, an exasperated Chief Minister D.V. Sadananda Gowda let the truth out, indirectly though, saying it is an internal affair and will be settled within the party.

Advani’s road show against corruption and black money might have been overdue. However, his eagerness not to allow his party’s scandals in Karnataka derail the yatra was not only misplaced but untimely, both for his party in the state and more so for Karnataka.

The state, including capital Bangalore, the nation’s tech hub, has paid a heavy price for political instability that has dogged it since 2004.

The BJP rode to power in May 2008 with the plea to voters – ‘one vote and one chance’ to provide ‘su-raj’ (good governance).

Let alone good governance, it could not provide even a clean government as dissidence against Yeddyurappa and scandals surrounding him and several ministers have engulfed the state since then.

Even as Advani was saying in Panaji, the capital of neighbouring Goa, that he had no regrets about showing the door to Yeddyurappa, the arrested leader’s loyalists were proclaiming in Karnataka that he will lead the next elections, due in April-May 2013.

The BJP veteran’s Jan Chetna Yatra may not rouse Indians against corruption as he is hoping, but it has succeeded in further fuelling dissidence in the party’s Karnataka unit.

The unintended fall-out of Advani braving the Karnataka scandals to visit Bangalore is further weakening of Chief Minister Sadananda Gowda’s position. Gowda is no mass leader and was Yeddyurappa’s handpicked successor.

Given the deepening fissures in the Karnataka unit of the BJP following Advani’s yatra, Gowda’s rule might well become a holding operation till the next assembly elections.

It’s a sorry situation that Karnataka could well do without as more than half the state — 90 taluks (revenue sub-divisions) out of 176 — has been declared drought-hit – a ground reality that Advani’s higher goal of a corrupt-free India sorely missed.