Wag the dog: Karnataka BJP, Congress leaders gang up to stymie Delhi bosses

Deccan Chronicle.  | vinay madhav

Nation, Politics

Ginger groups within both parties come together to turn the tables on their high commands

Karnataka chief minister B S Yediyurappa attending the Assembly session in Bengaluru on February 20, 2020. (PTI)

Bengaluru: Affairs in the BJP and Congress in Karnataka are so peculiarly poised that some top leaders within the rival parties are collaborating with each other in pursuit of their own interests. This is a reflection of their relationship with the respective party high commands in Delhi.

This is happening as the two major national parties have their minds scrambled by one or other issue. The BJP has been losing state after state since receiving a massive mandate at the Centre in 2019, and the Congress continues to be in such a shambles that it cannot take advantage of that.

The biggest beneficiaries of this state of flux are top leaders in Karnataka who have until now had to play a game of cloak and dagger with the high command and the parachutists they tend to drop from time to time. Now, these top state leaders in both the BJP and Congress have come together to turn the tables on the Delhi bosses.

One outcome of this state of play has been that senior BJP leaders in Karnataka have postponed their decision to step up their campaign against chief minister B S Yediyurappa. And on the Congress side, the party has put its restructuring process on hold despite the continuing drift under Siddaramaiah.

There has been talk among the followers of these two leaders about floating a regional party on the lines of the Aam Aadmi Party in Karnataka, sans the existing JD(S) headed by former prime minister Deve Gowda. The caste combinations have been worked out, and signals have been passed on to whoever needs to be kept informed.

Congress in turmoil

In the Congress, there has been a long tussle between old Congressmen and migrants from other parties, headed by Siddaramaiah. The latter has the confidence of Karnataka in-charge K C Venugopal as well as members of Rahul Gandhi's Young Turks team such as Dinesh Gundurao, Krishna Byregowda and others. The old Congress leaders on the hand were handicapped as long as Rahul Gandhi was AICC president.

Things changed drastically after the 2019 general elections to the Lok Sabha. Following the Congress’ dismal performance, Rahul Gandhi decided to step down as AICC president. In Karnataka, the Congress failed to win a majority and its coalition government with the JD(S) became vulnerable to the BJP’s Operation Lotus.

Interim Congress president Sonia Gandhi decided to put the party in Karnataka back on track through a change of guard in the state. While D K Shivakumar was front runner for the KPCC chief’s post, H K Patil and M B Patil were frontrunners to be leader of the opposition. This did not go down well with K C Venugopal, as Shivakumar, since his student days, was close to arch-rival, the Kerala opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala. So Venugopal has been waiting for an opportunity to scuttle Shivakumar’s chances. It is at such a juncture that there have been signals of Rahul Gandhi returning to the helm of the Congress, which would give a shot in the arm to the Siddaramaiah and Venugopal camp.

However, Sonia Gandhi, who has better knowledge of grassroots-level problems in Karnataka, decided to clip the wings of Siddaramaiah by separating the leader of opposition and CLP leader posts. Realising the meaning of this move, Siddaramaiah went to Mysuru and renewed his lawyer’s licence in the Bar Association, signalling that he would go back to practising law if his wings were clipped.

In a parallel move, Siddaramaiah’s supporters started roping in old Janata Parivar leaders like Mahima Patel, son of former chief minister J H Patel.

More significantly, they also approached chief minister Yediyurappa, sending a signal to the party high command that they would not mind parting ways if Siddaramaiah is disturbed.

Yediyurappa’s situation

Meanwhile, Yediurappa too is facing a similar situation in the BJP. In a bid to consolidate his position, he made tall promises to defectors from the Congress and JD(S) and toppled the Kumaraswamy government with their support. This, however, was at the cost of alienating long-time BJP loyalists as well as his own Lingayat community. Besides, his family members’ interference in the administration has added fuel to the heartburn nursed by his enemies in the BJP.

The BJP central leadership had been against bringing down the Kumaraswamy coalition government and making Yediyurappa chief minister. Sensing a weak moment for the chief minister, BJP legislators were given the go-ahead to destabilize him.

However, when signals of Siddaramaiah’s supporters’ overtures to Yediyurappa reached the ears of BJP central leaders, it was a grim reminder to them of Yediyurappa quitting the party in 2013 and bringing down the BJP in the state. Though Lingayat leaders are likely to back the coup against Yediyurappa, the BJP, having lost several states, did not want to take a chance. Consequently, a meeting of disgruntled BJP legislators, which was to have taken place on February 20, has been postponed to after the budget session, which begins on March 2.