DV Sadananda Gowda (right) exchanges a bouquet with Jagadish Shettar after the latter was nominated Karnataka chief minister in Bangalore on Sunday. (PTI)
July 8: Karnataka chief minister D.V. Sadananda Gowda resigned today to make way for Jagadish Shettar, an entrenched RSS swayamsevak whose father was the first Jan Sangh mayor of Hubli-Dharwad.
In the sweepstakes for chief ministership, Shettar ultimately trumped other aspirants, notably Bangalore MP Ananth Kumar, because he belongs to the Lingayat caste.
Announcing the leadership change, the second in 11 months, BJP president Nitin Gadkari said: “Gowda offered to resign for the larger good of the party. The party has accepted his resignation. The party has decided to make Shettar the new Karnataka CM.”
Gowda, who had held out against pressure for his ouster in the past few weeks, mainly with the blessings of BJP veteran L.K. Advani, said: “My central leaders have taken a decision for change of leadership for political reasons…. I will be loyal to the party in the future also. The incoming CM will be given all co-operation from me.”
The assurance/clarification was prompted by allegations of back-handed manoeuvres with the Janata Dal (Secular) to engineer a split in the BJP legislature party and put together an alternative formation if he was dislodged.
Gowda rejected the allegation while speaking to reporters in Delhi. “I will take sanyas from politics if the allegations are nailed. My intention is that we all should remain united and ensure the party’s victory in the next Assembly polls (due in May 2013),” he said.
In Bangalore this evening, when Shettar met Gowda, the two leaders hugged each other and smiled for photographers. “I wish him all the best and promise my support,” Gowda said.
Shettar, who is from Hubli district, is expected to be sworn in on Wednesday. The 57-year-old will be formally elected leader of the BJP legislature party tomorrow.
Gadkari had deputed Arun Jaitley and Rajnath Singh as central observers to oversee Shettar’s installation. If this part of the exercise, that had a long-drawn and tortuous preamble, was finally accomplished without open rancour, the BJP’s biggest worry now is how its first chief minister in the south, B.S. Yeddyurappa, would conduct himself in the Shettar dispensation.
For optics, Yeddyurappa gave the impression that Shettar was his nominee and the changeover was, therefore, his personal victory.
But their relationship has not always been even. When Yeddyurappa was forced out of office last year after he was named in a Lokayukta report on illegal mining, Shettar’s name had been proposed because the central leaders did not wish to alienate the Lingayats. But Yeddyurappa put his foot down, fearing the emergence of a caste rival. He proposed the name of Gowda, a Vokkaliga, thinking he could continue as a surrogate chief minister.
That didn’t happen because Gowda unshackled himself from Yeddyurappa’s control and ingratiated himself with the former chief minister’s detractors in Delhi. Realising that with Delhi’s patronage, Gowda could craft a parallel power cabal, Yeddyurappa made up with Shettar and organised periodic rebellions against Gowda.
Sources said the virtual veto Yeddyurappa exercises over the BJP’s Karnataka power structure was a sign of the skewed centre-state equations in the party. “To put it succinctly, we have a shell of a party at the centre, hollow within. It is presided over by leaders who lack mass base and popular charisma. Name one leader who can create and transfer votes. There is none. The power has shifted into the hands of state satraps,” a source said.
This trend was confirmed in a blog posted by Advani today, praising Narendra Modi. Once an Advani favourite, Modi fell out with him when he refused to heed his suggestions and even entreaties on critical matters like giving Assembly and Lok Sabha tickets in Gujarat. Sources claimed that like many of his BJP peers, Advani had mixed feelings about Modi’s projection on the national stage.
Commenting on former President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam’s book of memoirs, yet to be launched, Advani wrote: “I have often felt that in India’s political history no political leader has been as systematically and viciously maligned as Gujarat CM Narendrabhai Modi.”
The context was a reference to Kalam’s claim that then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee did not sound enthusiastic when he proposed going to Gujarat in 2002 as his “first major task” after becoming President.
Advani insinuated that the relevant paragraph was quoted without mentioning the subsequent ones to create an impression of a Vajpayee-Kalam rift.
In the next paragraph, Advani said, Kalam wrote that the apprehensions that the chief minister might “boycott” his visit were dispelled the moment he landed in Gandhinagar. He said Modi and his entire cabinet and several others received him and Modi was by his side throughout, noting Kalam’s “suggestions” for “quick action”. Advani’s comments became a talking point in the BJP today.