Bangalore: Karnataka’s ruling BJP, battered by corruption scandals and rebellion, is gung-ho about the Gujarat assembly poll outcome, more so because the once BJP strongman Keshubhai Patel bit the dust.
The party is hoping that it will not only retain power it won for the first time in May 2008 but its former strongman in the state, B.S. Yeddyurappa, will meet the same fate as Patel in the assembly polls due next May.
As of now, both prospects seem unrealistic as the situation in the two states is hardly comparable.
The Bharatiya Janata Party is unlikely to retain power in Karnataka as it has no popular or strong state leader to charm the voters to forget the party’s scandals and infighting to give it another term.
Similarly Yeddyurappa is also not likely to see his Karnataka Janata Party, which he formally launched Dec 9 after quitting the BJP Nov 30, emerging as a strong force in the elections but achieve the limited purpose – of denying the BJP victory.
The reason for a Gujarat not being repeated in Karnataka is that the former has been a BJP stronghold for long, while the party is still struggling in the southern state to be a dominant player.
While Gujarat Chief minister Narendra Modi has been in power for the last 11 years without interruption, the BJP is daily doing a somersault in Karnataka to save Jagadish Shettar, its third chief minister in four years, from being toppled by rebellion.
Unlike Keshubhai Patel, who tried to challenge Modi after the latter had assiduously projected himself as larger than the BJP, the party in Karnataka is searching for a leader or a combine to take on Yeddyurappa after bowing to him to choose two chief ministers of his choice in less than a year.
First it was D.V. Sadananda Gowda last July when Yeddyurappa was forced to quit as chief minister following mining bribery charges. And this July it was Shettar after Gowda fell out with Yeddyurappa.
In Gujarat, Keshubhai Patel took on Modi and not the BJP, but in Karnataka Yeddyurappa is challenging the party as he considers that its state leaders are no match to him in popularity despite his entanglement in various corruption cases.
Ever since the BJP declined to make him state party chief after he quit as chief minister, Yeddyurappa has been going round the state painting the several national leaders of the party, starting with its president, Nitin Gadkari, as “betrayers” and “not worthy of trust”.
To the BJP’s misfortune, its Karnataka chief, K.S. Eshwarappa, is himself under the police scanner for amassing property through corrupt means.
An FIR (first information report) has been filed against Eshwarappa, his son K.E. Kantesh and daughter-in-law Shalini in his hometown Shimoga, about 280 km north of Bangalore.
Fearing arrest, the trio have sought anticipatory bail from a Shimoga court.
Eshwarappa is also one of the two deputy chief ministers and holds the revenue portfolio. The other is R. Ashoka, in charge of the home and transport portfolios, who too faces charges of illegal land acquisition.
Eshwarappa is the latest addition to the list of around a dozen of Shettar’s 32-member cabinet fighting corruption cases.
Another senior leader of the BJP in the state is its general secretary and Lok Sabha member from Bangalore, H.N. Ananth Kumar. He carries the burden of a scancal in HUDCO (Housing and Urban Development Corporation) when he was central minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee cabinet.
In Gujarat, the BJP did not have so many headaches, though the biggest problem was Modi himself. But that was to overcome his “communal” image, which, as the assembly results show, did not matter much in the highly-polarized state.
The real test of the BJP’s ability to win an election as a party not dependent on a larger-than-the-party image of a single leader will be in Karnataka in the coming assembly polls.
In the last assembly polls the party, more so Yeddyurappa, rode on the emotional “betrayal” plank after coalition partner Janata Dal-Secular did not hand over the chief ministership to Yeddyurappa in 2007 as per their understanding in 2006.
This time, there is no such platform and with everyone from Gadkari to Eshwarappa entangled in scandals, the BJP may well be on its way to seeing, not a Gujarat, but a Himachal Pradesh repeating in Karnataka.