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SLOWLY WASTING AWAY

Yet another former chief minister from the Bharatiya Janata Party has come up with a regional outfit. When B.S. Yeddyurappa, the former chief minister of Karnataka, formally launched the Karnataka Janata Party on December 9, he joined the long list of former chief ministers from the BJP, such as Babulal Marandi, Uma Bharti, Kalyan Singh, Madan Lal Khurana, Keshubhai Patel and Shankersinh Vaghela, who had quit the party in the past. While Marandi’s Jharkhand Vikas Morcha is still a strong political force, Bharti’s Bharatiya Janshakti Party merged with the BJP as its founder returned to the BJP’s fold. Khurana also rejoined the BJP after leaving it for a while. Patel’s Gujarat Parivartan Party is posing a challenge to the chief minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi, for the state assembly elections. Another former Gujarat chief minister to quit the BJP, Shankersinh Vaghela, later joined the Congress.

All these former chief ministers were mass leaders in their respective states. Under Yeddyurappa’s leadership, the BJP came to power for the first time in a south Indian state. He quit the party after a long association of four decades, at a time when Narendra Modi is fighting a tough electoral battle in his own state.

The revolt by regional satraps from the saffron brigade at different points in time in the recent past has gone a long way in weakening the BJP. Curiously, the party is facing these challenges from the state-level leaders when its rival party, the Congress, isn’t facing the same. Barring Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy’s YSR Congress, no other outfit has broken ranks with the Congress in the last couple of years. The Trinamul Congress and Nationalist Congress Party broke away from the Congress in 1997 and 1999 respectively and thus dealt a severe blow to the party in West Bengal and Maharashtra respectively. But unlike the NCP’s Sharad Pawar — and P.A. Sangma, who was a co-founder of the NCP — neither Mamata Banerjee nor Jaganmohan Reddy were former chief ministers when they split from the Congress. The latter, in fact, is the son of the former chief minister, Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy.

Much at stake

The Janata Dal, the other national party which was formed in the late 1980s, virtually lost its existence owing to the breaking away of its regional leaders at regular intervals. The departures of politicians like Lalu Prasad, Nitish Kumar, Ram Vilas Paswan, Ajit Singh and Naveen Patnaik almost destroyed the Janata Dal.

Apart from Mamata Banerjee and Naveen Patnaik, almost all the state-level leaders of the BJP, Congress or Janata Dal who broke away from their parties used to have strong holds on their communities. For example, Khurana was popular with the Punjabi community in Delhi. Yeddyurappa and Patel are quite confident of the support they command from the Lingayat and the Patel communities in their respective states. Though Bharti and Khurana re-joined the BJP, their return did not help the party regain its old glory. Moreover, Khurana and Bharti lost their bargaining power in the party.

Another former chief minister from the BJP, Vasundhara Raje, threatened to quit the party recently, forcing the high command to accept her demands. After the Lok Sabha election in 2009, she was asked by the party leadership to step down as leader of the Opposition. She refused at first, but stepped down eventually. Yeddyurappa has broken away from the BJP at a crucial time; assembly elections in Karnataka — as well as in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Delhi and Tripura — are going to be held in 2013, while the general elections are slated for 2014. Barring Tripura, the BJP has a lot at stake in all these states.