Having thrown down the gauntlet before the Bharatiya Janata Party with the formation of the Karnataka Janata Party earlier this month, B.S. Yeddyurappa may already be savouring the taste of a first tactical victory. He had challenged the state party leadership to expel the 14 BJP legislators who had attended the KJP inauguration in open defiance of party orders. After much humming and hawing over carrying out the threat, the party has decided to give the matter a pass on the rather specious ground that the legislators in question have come back ‘repentant’. Mr Yeddyurappa may mourn the fact that the Gujarat elections have robbed this little drama in Karnataka of its entertainment value, but it is unlikely that he will allow its memory to sink into oblivion. There is no question that the KJP holds the BJP government in Karnataka by the scruff of its neck. It has at least a score of its loyalists occupying the benches in the legislature. While it may not want to push the BJP for the expulsion of these men, and bring down the government, it can rest assured that its men will keep the ruling party, especially Mr Yeddyurappa’s rivals within it, on tenterhooks. For the BJP, the situation is unenviable. Mr Yeddyurappa’s departure has left the largest of its vote-bank, that of the Lingayats, fractured, and there is no guarantee that its chief minister, Jagadish Shettar, who is also a Lingayat, has enough charisma to woo it back. What is worse is that the infighting and the government’s struggle for survival have so removed its attention from governance that it has no solid legacy to fall back on. Given that Mr Yeddyurappa has sought to draw his lessons from no less than Mamata Banerjee, there is every possibility that the KJP will, like the Trinamul Congress, feed on anti-incumbency and heighten parochial sentiments to remain relevant and play the spoiler for all other parties seeking a majority vote.
The BJP, much like the Congress in Andhra Pradesh and in Bengal, is paying the price of failing to accommodate the ambition of its charismatic regional leaders on whom it depended for political aggrandizement. But since Indian democracy is more about personalities than impersonal governance, this is a price no political party can avoid paying.