//BJP’s Karnataka catastrophe (2011)

BJP’s Karnataka catastrophe (2011)

Praful Bidwai
Aug 16 2011

If the Bharatiya Janata Party’s top leadership had decided to demonstrate its cynical disregard for political decency, tolerance for colossal corruption, lack of political judgment and sheer organisational incompetence, it couldn’t have done better than it did in Karnataka. The collapse of the BS Yeddyurappa government after it was indicted for monumental corruption by the Lokayukta (ombudsman), and the political manoeuvres that followed, constitute a humiliating debacle for the BJP. That a secret ballot was necessary to get the new chief minister elected speaks to the BJP’s sordid state. The choice of DV Sadananada Gowda as chief minister speaks to Yeddyurappa’s clout.

This debacle should instantly end the BJP’s dream of using its first-ever election victory in a south Indian state as a stepping-stone to power elsewhere in the south. Indeed, the party stands publicly discredited and viciously divided between warring factions and caste-based cabals. It would be lucky to retain power in Karnataka without splitting.

The latest fiasco shows that the BJP’s central leadership possesses little moral authority over state satraps. It failed to rein in Yeddyurappa long after it became evident that his involvement in large-scale illegality would cost the party a grievous, and potentially unbearable, loss. At its centre was a mafia-style mining operation run by the Reddy Brothers, Janardhana and Karunakara, and their chief accomplice B Sriramulu.

The BJP brass became complicit in Yeddyurappa’s corruption and use of money power. It received funds from him. Reportedly, Yeddyurappa gave Rs 160 crores to its 2008 state election campaign. Even the RSS is said to have received generous donations from him for its new office buildings. Yeddyurappa used money power to neutralise and control the party leadership.

The leadership was so compromised that it couldn’t even secure Yeddyurappa’s resignation immediately after Lokayukta N Santosh Hegde submitted his report. The chief minister took four days to announce that he would quit – on condition that he would choose his successor, and also control the state party.

While announcing his resignation, Yeddyurappa declared in his typical tawdry, vulgar style that Sadananda Gowda would succeed him. Rather than countermand him, senior national leaders Arun Jaitley and Rajnath Singh, deputed by the central leadership to ensure an orderly and consensual transition, stood and watched.

Yeddyurappa will go down in history for infusing an enormous amount of sleaze into Karnataka politics. Justice Hegde’s 464-page report, backed by over 25,000 pages of evidence, shows the chief minister was complicit in the operation of a humongous racket based on the illegal mining of iron ore and its clandestine export to China via seven ports in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu at least since 2006. His family too made crores from mining companies’ donations.

“They [the Reddy Brothers] claimed they were doing no mining in Karnataka”, Justice Hegde said. “We have enough documents to the contrary.” The Brothers created what the report terms “a pool of illegalities”, including mining beyond permitted areas and in larger quantities, overloading trucks, bribing officials, faking or destroying documents, and laundering money through a network of companies based in Singapore and the British Virgin Islands in the Caribbean.

The mining racket proper consisted in the outright looting of 29.8 million tonnes of high-quality iron ore, worth a mind-boggling Rs 12,228 crores, without payment of royalty or taxes from April 2006 to July 2010. The Reddys’ profit margin on the ore, after paying bribes, is estimated at 1,300 percent! The direct loss to the exchequer is estimated at Rs 16,085 crores. Justice Hegde has asked that this entire amount be recovered through legal proceedings against the nearly 800 officials and politicians involved.

The Reddy Brothers are believed to have amassed Rs 30,000 crores over the years. The BJP has been the greatest political beneficiary of their largesse. No wonder the BJP was loath to sack Yeddyurappa. It stonewalled questions on his corruption, and avoided taking a decision until his damning indictment by a statutory authority (Lokayukta Hegde) left it with no choice.

The BJP has not taken its disgracing to heart and decided to dispense with politicians of the Yeddyurappa ilk. It will not only continue to do business with them, but will rely on them to push its agendas.

Yeddyurappa carried money power-based politics to heights never before scaled in India. This variety of politics is admittedly not a BJP monopoly. The Congress has long practised it – for instance, under the late YS Rajasekhara Reddy. He was instrumental in creating new realty markets and boosting old ones, and in doling out infrastructure contracts to all manner of shady firms, which have recently built more large dams, airports and highways all over India than any other companies.

But Yeddyurappa is special. He practises a brand of politics for which money power and Robber Baron-style criminality are not only indispensable props; they are the essential ingredients of politics – and at the heart of the murky transactions that sustain leaders in power. Factors like caste, communalism and ethnicity help them win elections. They are necessary preconditions of power. But the exercise of power and generation of patronage is dependent on the ingredients of money and criminality.

Yeddyurappa can be, and is, virulently communal. His education minister has made the Bhagwad Gita compulsory in schools. Those who oppose this, he says, “are free to leave our country”. Yeddyurappa can be even more casteist than the politicians of Uttar Pradesh.

This deadly combination of communalism, casteism, money power and outright criminality has taken politics to new depths in Karnataka. But unlimited money power, based on crime and plunder of public resources, cannot guarantee political pre-eminence for the BJP in Karnataka. Its social and political base in the state remains relatively thin. Although it won 110 of 224 seats in the last assembly elections (2008), it bagged a smaller vote-share (33.9 percent) than the Congress’s 34.6 percent, with 80 seats.

The BJP has a chameleon-like character in Karnataka. Its original and strongest base is in Dakshina Kannada (the southern coastal region near Mangalore-Udipi). But in 2008, it suddenly sprouted in the northern and central regions where the Lingayats are strong.

The BJP could build a strong Lingayat base partly because of the marginalisation of Lingayat leaders in other parties. This doesn’t reflect the BJP’s independent strength. This strength is limited. In general, the BJP has gained in Karnataka from the long-term decline of the Congress, the rise of the Janata Dal under Ramakrishna Hegde, and later, the split within the JD.

The defector faction, the JD (S), led by Deve Gowda and his even more maverick son H D Kumaraswamy, suddenly and opportunistically joined hands with the BJP to form a government. Kumaraswamy was meant to give the BJP a turn at the chief ministership after half-time. But he refused. The BJP gained from the sympathy factor.

However, these phenomena are transient. The BJP hasn’t built an enduring strong base for itself. Its rule has been marked by bad, unresponsive and unaccountable governance, spread of communalism and decline in social indicators. Outside of Bangalore, itself a mal-developed pocket of IT success and prosperity, Karnataka remains wretchedly backward. After the present fiasco, the BJP’s future looks pretty gloomy in Karnataka.

The writer, a former newspaper editor, is a researcher and peace a
nd human-rights activist based in Delhi.

The News International

BJP’s Karnataka catastrophe

Praful Bidwai
Wednesday, August 10, 2011