INSIDE STORY OF THE BJP-JDS NEGOTIATIONS

If there has been anything more intellectually inadequate than the recent politics in Karnataka, then it has been the media coverage of it. Especially in the mainstream English media. Rarely rising above “he-said, she-said”, mind-reading, or plain speculation, a blow-by-blow first-person inside account of the jostling and backroom manoueuvring has been missing. The king makers, the powerbrokers, the middlemen have all been absent from the narrative.

Result: one side has been painted like angels betrayed, the other as devils personified.

One of the few exceptions is an interview by the television journalist B.S. SATYA with former state public prosecutor S. DORE RAJU, which aired on Udaya TV on Thursday. Dore Raju, a lawyer close to the sangh parivar who, by his own admission, has filed more than 10,000 affidavits for virtually every BJP leader of note, played a key role in the negotiations with the JDS, which resulted first in the formation of the H.D. Kumaraswamy government and then in the shortlived B.S. Yediyurappa formulation.

The interview, more than anything else, reveals how completely ideology has vanished from a grandstanding party like the BJP; how politics has become only about intrigue, position and money at the hands of the the backroom boys of the JDS; how, despite all its public posturings and protestations, the RSS plays a active role in the political decision-making process of the BJP; and how the State has been brought to its knees by “suitcase politics” in the name of the people.

***

HOW THE JDS-BJP STRUCK UP A FRIENDSHIP

“In the May 2004 elections, the BJP got 79 seats, the Congress got 64 and the JDS 58. As a longstanding BJP member who had been close to the sangh parivar since 1988, having been associated with the Jan Sangh, RSS and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, I privately wondered if in this situation there was a chance for the BJP to form a government.

T. Venkatesh, the editor and proprietor of the evening daily Ee Sanje was a professional friend of mine. I had handled many of his cases. Probably because he also used to run a film magazine called Aragini, H.D. Kumaraswamy, who was also a film producer, used to come to Venkatesh’s office every day. It was there I struck up an acquaintance with Kumaraswamy.

“The BJP leader Ananth Kumar was aware of my interactions with Kumaraswamy. Arun Jaitely was the BJP secretary in charge of Karnataka. One day, Ananth Kumar called me and asked me to talk to Kumaraswamy and see if there was any possibility of the BJP and the JDS striking up a relationship.

“This happened even before Dharam Singh had formed a government in alliance with the JDS.

“I talked to Venkatesh. The meeting took place at Venkatesh’s house one day: Ananth Kumar, Kumaraswamy, Venkatesh and I were present. Because Venkatesh’s family members were around, we held the meeting on the first or second floor. I don’t know if H.D. Deve Gowda knew about what was happening. But it was clear that with so many seniors in the Congress, Dharam Singh, Mallikarjun Kharge, et al, Kumaraswamy, who was just an MLA, realised that it was too early to realise his chief ministerial ambitions. Thus Dharam Singh came to power, with the JDS in coalition, but Kumaraswamy was already talking to us.”

HOW SHOBHA KARANDLAJE CALLS THE SHOTS

“After the Congress-JDS government had been in power for several months, I received a call from Kumaraswamy. He was in Tirupati. He asked if a meeting with the BJP could be arranged again.

“I spoke to Ananth Kumar. He said, ‘See if you can.’ There was a reason for this visible disinterest on his part. Because, by this time, there had been a clear division of duties in the BJP. Ananth Kumar had been put in charge of national affairs, and B.S. Yediyurappa was in charge of the State.

“But I didn’t know Yediyurappa personally and didn’t have access. As a state secretary of the BJP, I had been in charge of Basavangudi assembly constituency during the May 2004 elections and had met Shobha Karandlaje, an MLC known to be close to Yediyurappa. I asked her if a meeting could be arranged between Yediyurappa and Kumaraswamy. She said she would get back to me.”

WHERE THE DECISIVE MEETING TOOK PLACE

“The meeting took place early one morning, at around 7.30, at Chickpet MLA Zameer Ahmed‘s guest house in Sadashivanagar. There were four from the JDS: Kumaraswamy, Nagamangala MLA N. Cheluvaraya Swamy, Magadi MLA H.C. Balakrishna and graduates constituency MLC Puttanna. On the BJP side, there were Ananth Kumar, Yediyurappa, Jagadish Shettar, and myself.

“Because the Congress-JDS coalition was still on, we did not want word to leak out of the meeting. So we entered the guest house through the back door. It was at this meeting that it was decided to form a BJP-JDS government. There was even talk at this meeting of how the chairmanship of the boards and corporation should be split. The BJP with more MLAs obviously wanted a large share of the boards and corporations.

“Yediyurappa even told Kumaraswamy after this meeting that since all the meetings between the two sides so far had taken place in houses belonging to the JDS camp followers, he should come to his house next!

“But by this time, the intelligence department seemed to have gathered that something was on. An assistant commissioner of police called K.N.K. Reddy asked me as did a lady officer. But I was cagey and did not reveal much.”

HOW KUMARASWAMY MADE SURE HE BECAME CM FIRST

“We next met at Venkatesh’s house. Kumaraswamy came after the BJP side had already assembled. He clearly said at this meeting that he wanted to be chief minister first and that Yediyurappa should be CM after him. Yediyurappa disagreed. After all, the BJP had more seats than the JDS. But Kumaraswamy stuck to his guns.

“In fact, Cheluvaraya Swamy and Balakrishna, who were present, mildly threatened me—‘dhamki haakudru‘—to make sure that Kumaraswamy got the first shot! Eventually Ananth Kumar, Yediyurappa and Shettar agreed. It now boiled down to the portfolios.

“The JDS was to get 16 portfolios and the BJP 18. The JDS wanted to take up the portfolios held by the Congress in the Dharam Singh regime, but Kumaraswamy was insistent that the power, irrigation and public works departments be with the JDS.

“These portfolios had been held by H.D. Revanna in the Congress-JDS coalition. I don’t know if Kumaraswamy was already sure if Revanna would join the JDS-BJP coalition, but he was sure that the portfolios should stay with the JDS in the new coalition. By now some 10-15 meetings had taken place between the two sides. I don’t know if Deve Gowda was in the loop, but Kumaraswamy was very confident of pulling it off and we were talking to him.

“Eventually, somebody, I don’t know who, pulled out a small spiral bound notebook from his shirt pocket and noted down which party would get which ministry as per the negotiations. One copy was given to the BJP, another copy to the JDS. There was no formal agreement beyond this.”

HOW KUMARASWAMY LONGED FOR AN EXTENSION

“Once the JDS-BJP coalition government was formed and the two sides started tasting power, mutual distrust and suspicion crept in. Kumaraswamy and Yediyurappa barely spoke to each other. They stopped meeting each other. There was a communication gap after the two sides had spoken of a 20-year coalition.

“As the 20-month period veered to a close, Kumaraswamy called me at least two or three times asking me to convey to Yediyurappa that he would like a 3-month extension beyond the original 20 months. He so desperately wanted it to last just a bit longer that he even asked if he could stay for one extra month. But the BJP national leadership was very clear that there would be no going back on the previously agreed arrangement in any form.”

HOW STATE BJP WAS READY TO MEET THE JDS CONDITIONS

“When the BJP pulled out of the government resulting in the imposition of President’s rule, Kumaraswamy called again. Backroom negotiations had been going on even when the BJP had kicked off his yatra to drive home the JDS betrayal. This time we met at a forest guest house around 11.30 at night. Yediyurappa was there. Kumaraswamy said he was once again ready to give support. Later we met at Cheluvaraya Swamy’s residence.

“By now the “conditions” had become the contentious issue. There were so many of them, 12 sometimes, 10 sometimes, 8 some other time, it is difficult to remember. But there were conditions, which I helped give a legal framework, and surely the issue about the mines and geology, and housing and urban development ministries staying with JDS was one of them.

“The state BJP leaders agreed to the conditions, but the BJP national leadership again put its foot down and said nothing doing. Eventually, the renegotiations broke up. Was there an exchange of suitcases? I do not know, I did not see it. Did Ananth Kumar want the renegotiations to fail? No. He never said no; he was involved in many things at various stages.”

HOW RSS PLAYS AN ACTIVE ROLE IN BJP’S POLITICS

“Both during the first phase of negotiations and the second, a senior member of the Rashtriya Swamyamsevak Sangh, a man whose name or face does not appear in the media, was in the know of things.

“We would directly report to him at each stage of the negotiations, and often there were things that the RSS man knew about what was happening that Yediyurappa himself did not know.”