Caste equation scores over clean administration in Karnataka

By V.S. Karnic, IANS,

Bangalore: The Bharatiya Janata Party’s propensity to score self-goals has become legendary. Now it has shot itself, not in the foot but at what it flaunts as its soul – its discipline and nation first motto – by pandering to caste equations in Karnataka and bowing to pressure tactics.

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There was no other compelling reason for the party to shunt out Chief Minister D.V. Sadananda Gowda and replace him with Rural Development Minister Jagadish Shettar.

Gowda had given a virtually blemishless administration in the last 11 months after the party found itself neck-deep in scandals – from rape to corruption and illegal land deals.

Its first chief minister in the state, B.S. Yeddyurappa heads the list of around 20 ofthe party’s 120 law-makers fighting various cases in courts.

And he is setting the tunes to which the BJP leadership is dancing on the specious plea that rustling up a caste combination was essential to win the next assembly elections due May next.

The party’s ambition of making Karnataka a launch pad for ruling south India is turning out to be a nightmare as it goes in for a third chief minister in four years.

BJP will find it difficult to live down the ignominy of removing Gowda as the main reason behind is to please one major caste group – the Lingayats.

The explanation the BJP will give for replacing Gowda with Shettar will, of course, be that this is part of overhauling the government and party in Karnataka with elections in mind and has nothing to do with Yeddyurappa’s caste politics.

But the BJP will have to carry the burden of deepening caste polarisation in Karnataka and will have to pay for it as more energy and time will be spent in appeasing caste groups by finding them slots in the cabinet and plum posts of heads of state-run corporations and boards.

Both Yeddyurappa and Shettar are Lingayats who constitute about 17 percent of the states 65 million population.

Gowda is a Vokkaliga, another politically powerful caste group that makes up for about 16 percent of the population. The two groups have dominated Karnataka politics for decades.

Lingayats are generally believed to have started supporting the BJP since 1990 following the unceremonial removal of Veerendra Patil as chief minister by then Congress president Rajiv Gandhi.

Yeddyurappa claims that he rallied the Lingayats solidly behind the BJP in the May 2008 assembly polls which helped the party to form its first government in the state and southern India.

He played the same card now to unseat Gowda and get Shettar made chief minister.

What is shocking is that the BJP president Nitin Gadkari and other senior leaders fell for the ploy instead of using the opportunity to reduce the caste divisions.

It is a ploy because Yeddyurappa was not even willing to make Shettar a cabinet minister in May 2008 when he formed the government. He then feared Shettar may emerge as a challenger to his claims as the sole leader of the Lingayat community.

Shettar was forced by the BJP national leaders to accept the speaker’s post.

Shettar got his chance to get back at Yeddyurappa and become a cabinet minister in 2009.

This happened after mining barons, the Reddy brothers’ rebellion against Yeddyurappa and projection of Shettar as an alternative to him.

Even in July last year, when Yeddyurappa was forced to quit over mining bribery charges, he was opposed to Shettar becoming the chief minister and insisted that he would resign only if Gowda succeeded him.

BJP leaders have chosen to wear blinkers to ignore these recent incidents and play the caste game, rather than rising above it.

It is not that all Lingayats vote for only the BJP. The Congress too has several Lingayat leaders who hotly contest Yeddyurappa’s claims.

However they too are using the ruse of Congress neglecting the Lingayat community and forcing it to support the BJP.

In fact the Lingayat leaders in Congress have launched a campaign to get for one of them the post of Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee now headed by G. Parameshwara, a Scheduled Caste.

Caught in such a caste cauldron, governance will be more by default, a fate that the once well governed state is living with since 2004.

Between 2004 and 2007, the state saw two coalition governments – first between the Congress and Janata Dal-Secular, the second between the latter and BJP.

The BJP will also get a dubious distinction of providing the state three chief ministers in four years from May 2008.

The way the party’s leaders have handled Karnataka proves that the BJP has no clue to how to tackle dissidence, leave alone a vision to put the state back on the track of good governance.

(V.S. Karnic can be contacted at [email protected])