Jagadish Shettar takes over as Karnataka Chief Minister today, replacing Sadananda Gowda, but the transition only accentuates the faultlines in the BJP’s leadership in the State and its central leadership’s failure to enforce discipline in its only “showcase State” in southern India.
The change of guard, the second in less than a year, represents a total capitulation by the central leadership to strongman BS Yeddyurappa‘s demands that Gowda be replaced by one of his own close associates.
Gowda is expected to step down on Sunday and take over as chief of the State unit of the party, clearing the way for Rural Development Minister and Lingayat leader Shettar, 56, to take over as Chief Minister. Under the new power dispensation, KS Eshwarappa and R Ashok may be made Deputy Chief Ministers.
The formal decision to replace Gowda with Shettar was taken at the BJP’s Core Group and Parliamentary Board meetings on Saturday.
The only saving grace for the BJP is that Gowda is bowing out gracefully, making little additional trouble for the embattled central leadership of the party. After day-long discussions with the central BJP leadership, including LK Advani, Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley, Gowda offered to resign in the larger interests of the party. He is expected to meet party president Nitin Gadkari early on Sunday, after which the decision on his resignation will be formally announced.
Gowda’s remarks extending his full cooperation to his “good friend” Shettar were extraordinarily self-effacing. ”Shettar is very good friend of mine,” Gowda said. “He is more senior and more experienced (than I am). I will always give him full cooperation.” He said that in his time as Chief Minister, he had endeavoured to give the State a ”corruption-free administration”.
He told mediapersons that he was prepared to accept “whatever decision” the central leadership of the party may take. “If they ask me to quit the post, I am prepared. If they ask me to continue, I will continue.”
Somewhat uncharacteristically, given the prevalent inclination among today’s politicians to put themselves ahead of the party, Gowda said he was willing to lay down office in the interests of party unit. ”We all should remain united and ensure the party’s victory in the next Assembly elections. Ultimately, the party is important, the organisation is important,” he added.
That line is in marked contrast to Yeddyurappa‘s politics of brinkmanship, which has profoundly embarrassed the BJP in recent months.
Ever since Yeddyurappa was forced to step down 11 months ago, after being indicted by the Lokayukta in corruption cases against him, he has been demanding Gowda’s removal and his replacement with Shettar.
The constant infighting in the State unit of the party effectively held the government to ransom. At a time when parts of the State are reeling under drought-like conditions, the power struggle is an enormous distraction, which has effectively paralysed the State administration.
It has made a mockery of the BJP’s hopes of showcasing Karnataka as a shining symbol of the kind of governance it can offer whenever it is elected to power. It has also exposed the enfeebled state of the central leadership of the party, which has effectively surrendered to Yeddyurappa’s political blackmail.
The Karnataka episode gives the BJP reasons to reflect on its inability to leverage its few pockets of power base to expand its political footprint. It also reflects poorly on the party’s political management skills, and the sense of indiscipline that is creeping in, with frequent personality clashes compounding the failure to articulate a coherent political ideology or a message.
That failing in the BJP has caused some anguish in the mothership, the RSS a well. A commentary in the most recent issue of the Organiser, the RSS journal, makes a case for why the BJP needs to “reinvent” itself .
“To be taken seriously, a party must have a clear vision, a specific ideology by which one stands or falls. And just as importantly it must be seen as a united organisation that speaks in one voice,” the commentary, by veteran journalist MV Kamath notes.
“Can anyone say that of today’s BJP? What has been painfully evident is a clash of personalities and a conflict of interests that have caused distress among BJP supporters,” it added.
Kamath frames his critique in the context of the BJP’s recent failed effort to get former President APJ Abdul Kalam to contest the Presidential election. ”To ask (Kalam) to stand for election again, especially when chances were he would be effectively defeated was a thoughtless way of undoing his well-earned reputation,” he observed trenchantly. “The BJP should have understood it. Happily, Kalam saved himself from this folly.”