The BJP Government in Karnataka, by all accounts, finds itself in choppy, if not turbulent, waters.
Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa has declared war on the cash-rich and powerful ‘Reddy Brothers’ of Bellary, who, in turn, appear to be exerting to bring the Government down. The ‘Reddy Brothers’ virtually control all iron ore mining in Bellary and have similar ‘business interests’ in Andhra Pradesh.
The ‘Reddy Brothers’, Tourism Minister G Janardhana Reddy and his elder brother and Revenue Minister G Karunakara Reddy, have criticised Yeddyurappa for not being sufficiently alert to the woes of the victims of the recent floods. They have launched their own rehabilitation programme and propose to build 50,000 houses for the flood-affected people.
Yeddyurappa, apparently, demanded that they abandon their private project and contribute the money to the official rehabilitation programme. The ‘Reddy Brothers’ not only ignored the Chief Minister’s demand but also refused to invite him for the ‘bhoomi pujan’, apart from lashing out at him in public. They are being supported by Health Minister B Sreeramulu.
An incensed Yeddyurappa retaliated by transferring bureaucrats in the three Ministries and in Bellary who are believed to be close to the Ministers. He wants the party to take action against the three Ministers whom he wants sacked from the Government.
The ‘Reddy Brothers’ and Sreeramulu have retaliated by stoking further dissidence in the BJP legislature party; 15 ‘dissident’ MLAs have been flown out to Hyderabad where they have in put up in a hotel. Sreeramulu says five more will join them soon. The ‘dissident’ MLAs are incommunicado.
Meanwhile, Speaker Jagadish Shettar, a known Yeddyurappa-baiter, has begun flirting with the rebels. One story has it that the ‘Reddy Brothers’ want Shettar to be made Chief Minister. Another story doing the rounds is that Yeddyurappa, in an effort to win over Shettar, offered him the Deputy Chief Minister’s post, but that has been rejected.
Three questions arise:
a) Why did Yeddyurappa choose to precipitate a crisis at this point of time when there are enough fires burning in the BJP? To my mind, his reaction to the defiance of the ‘Reddy Brothers’ has been extremely churlish, if not cussed. He could have done without discovering merit in integrity for some more time.The BJP leadership’s incompetence apart, there’s a conspiracy theory which raises an interesting possibility. Apparently Jaganmohan Reddy, said to be close to the ‘Reddy Brothers’ (over-lapping ‘business interests’ are being cited) is involved in the effort to bring down the BJP Government. If he is able to do so, or so the story goes, he will claim the Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister’s post as his trophy from the Congress high command.
b) How come the central leadership of the party was unaware of the unfolding crisis till it pushed the Government to the brink of losing majority? The crisis is by no means an overnight development. Does the answer lie in Dilli4 being clueless about what’s happening beyond south Delhi? Or was the situation allowed to drift because one member of the cabal that has converted the party into its fiefdom would like to see Yeddyurappa make an ignominious exit?
c) Who will the so-called national leadership of the BJP blame for the mess in which the party finds itself in Karnataka? Will it look for yet another scapegoat or will it, for a change, look into the mirror? A fish, as I have often said, begins to rot from its head.
The situation at the moment, as the cliché goes, is extremely fluid. Arun Jaitley is camping in Bangalore and has been speaking to various groups to find a solution. The RSS is also trying to broker peace among the feuding factions. Yeddyurappa, however, is recalcitrant, as are the ‘Reddy Brothers’ and fellow dissidents, though they have said that they will abide by the decision of the party ‘high command’.
If the crisis snowballs, the BJP will lose its Government in Karnataka where it has been in power for 18 months. The BJP has 117 MLAs in the 224-member Assembly. That majority could disappear if the ‘Reddy Brothers’ walk out with 20 MLAs. Some say if push comes to shove, the number could go up to 40, thus reducing the BJP’s strength to less than 80 MLAs.
There was great jubilation when the BJP won the Assembly election in Karnataka. It marked the party’s coming to power in a southern State for the first time. But coming to power is only half of the power game. The other half is the ability to retain power.