New Delhi, May 8: The Karnataka wipe-out has triggered a blame game in the BJP, sotto voce, but the swords have yet to be unsheathed and whetted.
What has shocked the leaders in Delhi is not the defeat — for some time they were reconciled to the inevitability — but the prospect of losing the status of the largest Opposition party.
For that position, the BJP was locked in a close fight with the Janata Dal (Secular), a party it often derided as “casteist” and “region-specific”. It looked as though the Dal (Secular) leader H.D. Kumaraswamy would wrest the Opposition leader’s post instead of Jagadish Shettar, the chief minister in the outgoing BJP government.
At the heart of the gut reactions emanating from the BJP is B.S. Yeddyurappa, its chief minister.
Yeddyurappa has become an alibi for BJP factional chiefs to push their agendas: those against him dub him a “symbol of corruption”, stress the party was right in ousting him and claim that it will “gain” in the “long term”.
This section holds the view that the central “command” should hold regional leaders in leash to check “other Yeddyurappas”. L.K. Advani and Sushma Swaraj apparently represent this line of thinking.
Another group propagates the theory that Yeddyurappa’s exit spelt doom for the BJP. These leaders argue that there is a case to promote regional leaders (read Narendra Modi) and the BJP should not waste more time in holding Modi back from the national dais.
They refuse to buy assessments that Modi was a cropper in Karnataka — he had campaigned in three cities. “Anyone who believes he could swing votes in the penultimate stage of electioneering must be out of his mind,” a source said.
The Modi votaries hope the Karnataka setback will help them leverage their position in the parliamentary board, the party’s highest decision-making body, for the Gujarat chief minister’s early projection.
But their hopes, sources said, will fructify only if the BJP “properly” identifies the causes of its rout, faces the consequences of Yeddyurappa’s exit and fixes accountability on those who had eased him out.
Many believe that is unlikely. “Such candid introspection rarely happens in the BJP. No exercise took place after we lost the Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and the Himachal Pradesh elections. In Himachal, Prem Kumar Dhumal (former chief minister) and his son (and MP) Anurag Thakur were zeroed in by our workers as the cause of the defeat but what happened? Anurag was re-appointed the head of the youth wing,” a source said.
Yeddyurappa’s Karnataka Janata Party won only six seats but he irreparably damaged the BJP’s prospects to such an extent that many in his Lingayat caste voted on his call for the Congress in several places. The Congress had so far been anathema to the Lingayats since Veerendra Patil, a former party leader from the caste, was publicly insulted by a central leader.
A Yeddyurappa aide said wherever his party was ineffective, he had transferred Lingayat votes to the Congress. “He proved he has the power to transfer votes. No BJP leader possesses that ability today in Karnataka,” the aide said.
Affecting a brave face, Ravi Shankar Prasad, the BJP’s deputy leader in the Rajya Sabha, conceded Yeddyurappa had taken away “a good portion of our votes” but sought to justify his sacking saying corruption (of which the Lokayukta accused Yeddyurappa) was “serious and non-negotiable”.
Privately, sources said the day Yeddyurappa left the BJP, the party had “lost the battle”. “It was not about the 18 or 19 per cent Lingayat votes he commanded. He had built the party with the RSS’s backing and knew practically every worker by face and name. The day he left, many wept. They were so demoralised that they worked half-heartedly,” the source said.
But while Yeddyurappa may have secured the loyalty of the Karnataka rank-and-file, the Delhi brass was split on his clout and role.
Loyalists of Advani and Sushma stressed that if anyone was to blame, it was Arun Jaitley and Dharmendra Pradhan, the general secretary in charge of Karnataka. “Jaitley minded state affairs for the past seven or eight years, he micro-managed things in fact,” the source said.
Most others felt the quartet of Advani-Sushma-Ananth Kumar-M. Venkaiah Naidu was “culpable” because, influenced by Kumar, the South Bangalore MP, these leaders had “worked against” Yeddyurappa from “day one”.
Indeed, a Karnataka BJP MLC, Lehar Singh Siroya, alleged on TV channels that Delhi leaders “close to god” were after Yeddyurappa’s “blood” even if the BJP suffered in the process.