BJP has won the war; it needs to win its battles

MATHIHALLI MADAN MOHAN writes from Hubli: Call it lack of skill and experience in political management, or the manifestation of an authoritarian streak for which B.S. Yediyurappa is known, or just a simple case of lack of communication. But the twin hiccups that marked the beginning of the BJP rule in Karnataka were eminently avoidable.

Thankfully, the controversies over the composition of the ministry and the Governor’s address to the joint session of the legislature have blown over as quickly as they surfaced, with Jagadish Shettar agreeing to be the Assembly speaker and Rameshwar Thakur agreeing to read out his address before the majority test, but there can be little doubt that the two episodes have painted BJP in not very glowing light.

What is particularly galling is that the two issues came to the fore on the day the BJP’s national leadership had congregated in Bangalore to witness history being made below the fold.

Shettar, despite his senior status, stayed away from the swearing-in ceremony on being denied the berth in the ministry being sworn in and gave public expression to his sense of disappointment.

Worse, while BJP cadres all over the state were celebrating the occasion with gusto, Shettar’s followers in hometown Hubli were staging a dharna protesting his non-inclusion. They torched buses in the process, which prompted Congress chief Mallikarjuna Kharge to demand that the loss to public property be recovered from Shettar.

It would be interesting to see what Shettar’s stand would be if Kharge were to raise the issue in the assembly when it meets.

The omission of Shettar was not the only sore spot in the Yediyurappa ministry. It was imbalanced to the core and the approach of new Chief Minister appeared totally flawed.

As many as eleven districts went without representation. One would understand BJP not being able to give representation to the five districts of Chamarajanagar, Chikkaballapur, Hassan, Mandya and Ramanagara, where the party drew a blank in the elections.

But six other district where the BJP had done well, like Dharwad (where BJP had won six of the seven seats), and Gadag (where BJP had all the four seats), and not so well in other four districts including Mysore, were deprived of their due in the arrangement for sharing power, for which no reasons were given.

What led to Yediyurappa dropping Shettar, who was once considered as his protégé is still a mystery.

Shettar owes his rise from being political lightweight to the leader of the opposition in the second term, state party president in the fourth time, and as minister in the coalition government entirely to Yediyurappa.

Yediyurappa’s shocking and unexpected defeat in 1999 catapulted Shettar to the position the latter had held mainly because Yediyurappa was determined that his traducers in the party should have no chance.

Again the same reason came in way of Shettar being anointed as the state president when the tenure of incumbent president Basavaraj Patil Sedam came to an end. He was the automatic choice for a berth in the coalition government which was formed by the BJP with JDS on the fall of the Congress led JDS supported coalition.

Whether his exclusion was due to the fact that Shettar had been identified with the Ananth Kumar, a bete noire of Yeddyurappa, or due to vigorous campaign Shettar and others had launched during the days of the coalition against a cabinet berth being given to Shobha Karandlaje, a confidante of Yediyurappa is not clear.

But Yediyurappa’s rationale in offering the post of the Speaker as a sop to Shettar was not very convincing either.

On the other hand Shettar took the denial of cabinet post seriously and personally and considered it as a deliberate affront. His supporters went to the extent of accusing Ananth Kumar, his new mentor in the BJP’s faction ridden politics, of sacrificing him for the sake of his political designs.

Shettar, who is associated with the realtors lobby, did not consider the Speaker’s post as quite attractive and this would come in the way of his doing the “people’s work”. “Speaker’s post or nothing else” was his motto, as his supporters went on the rampage and sought to portray it as injustice done to Northern Karnataka.

What is intriguing in the whole matter is the communication gap between Shettar and Yediyurappa before and after the ministry making exercise was completed.

Yediyurappa could have easily explained his rationale to Shettar in person, assuaged his hurt feelings and sought cooperation. On the other hand, Yediyurappa chose to let the national leadership resolve the issue rather than talking to Shettar himself.

Shettar, who was reluctant to change his mind under any circumstances, could not resist responding the summons from the party bosses. He went to New Delhi, where he was given a piece of the mind by the leadership and was left with no alternative but to fall in line. The national leadership made it clear to Shettar that it had taken his tantrums seriously, and delivered a “speaker or mere legislator” ultimatum. Shettar meekly acquiesced.

Even as the ripples caused by the Shettar episode continued to linger in the BJP, the row over the governor’s address broke out. It is customary for the governor after every election or at the beginning of the year to spell out the policies of the government, but Thakur insisted on the government proving its majority before delivering the address.

BJP circles saw red in the stance of the Governor, since he had not expressed any doubts of the numbers the BJP ministry commanded, when he sworn in the cabinet, which included five independents, who had pledged their support.

Why was the Governor suddenly making this an issue, and was the Congress behind the move to needle the government needlessly?

Legal circles hold different points of view on the propriety or otherwise of the Governor’s action. Quibbling apart, what the BJP’s initial confrontationist approach with the Governor underlined was the lack of tactical political wisdom in getting over the ticklish situation.

Since the BJP had the necessary numbers on its side, why did it flinch from proving the majority as desired by the Governor? After the Speaker’s election, it could have done had a floor test and proved the point convincingly.

The Governor subsequently changed his stand after a team led by the Chief Minister called on him, bringing a happy end to what would have emerged as a thorny problem. But the two episodes go some way in showing that the BJP would do with a dose of tactical wisdom.