When Prime Minister Narendra Modi tears himself away from this curiously timed course correct to China and gets back to the reality of reeling Karnataka back into the BJP’s net, everyone believes, even in the BJP, that the saffron moment may have passed. From here on, it won't be the cakewalk that it could have been, even a week ago.
In fact, the BJP is looking at a potential war zone, a mine-field, and not the expected gold mine for more reasons than just having a mine baron Janardhan Reddy back in the electoral money game.
Asking Reddy to campaign, away from the public eye, while you skip Ballari altogether and head to Koppala to address a crowd of a few thousands? How does that help change the perception that you are in cahoots with the men who brought your government down, back in 2011? Everyone knows he’s out there, hair implants – or is it a toupe – and bag of tricks, in place for his big day in the sun, when he brings in the promised 15-16 seats that will include not just his two brothers but his star and possible future chief minister and tribal face of the BJP, the genial Boya Sriramulu. This is the man who has gone from humble son of an ordinary cop living in a row house in Ballari civil lines to Sushma Swaraj’s campaign driver extraordinaire, and now the suave face of the BJP across a swathe of districts, from Ballari, Koppal, Raichur and Chitradurga to Bagalkot.
The only threat in Molakalmuru, posed by Ramulu’s own man Thippeswamy has fizzled out. He is now reported to have succumbed to the Reddy brand of charm, which has ended any challenge posed by the potential division of the tribal vote between Thippeswamy’s Myasa Nayakas – whom even the Vijayanagara kings were unable to defeat - and his own Ooru Nayakas. Why Ramulu abandoned his old hunting ground of Ballari for Molakalmuru, of course is a mystery, with some saying his Muslim support base in Cowl’s Bazaar had abandoned him.
More importantly, what Janardhan Reddy does with this cornucopia is a whole other question. And if he does knock Chief Minister Siddaramaiah out of Badami as some in the Congress predict, there will be no looking back… What’s the trade-off going to be? Has Ashoka Road thought this through? B.S. Yeddyurappa bringing in the Lingayat vote – or not – and then deflected into taking the Advani-Yashwant Sinha ‘margdarshak’ route to semi-retirement, while the 46 year old from Ballari, the Reddy protégé, and an extension of the real force in Ballari, is installed as the closest thing to a Dalit face of the BJP, here in the south? Ramulu as a future chief minister? Edging out B.S. Yeddyurappa!
Except... winning Karnataka is vastly different from grabbing a shambolic Uttar Pradesh from under Akhilesh Yadav’s nose; or losing Goa by a whisker to Manohar Parrikar, or for that matter, winning the north-east that the Congress had neglected to the point of embarrassment. Gujarat may have been the course correction, when a Congress in transition from the old to the new, heeded the voice of an experienced hand like Ashok Gehlot and gave the BJP a scare in its own backyard; no secret that both the political face of the BJP and its prime executor – and the new team of top secret experts operating out of the BJP’s war room – call Gujarat home.
But does this saffron brains trust from the north - or should that be the west - get Karnataka at all? Here, unlike the north – and before social media - hate and money and invective has always been left at the door, and politicians, despite their deep-seated rivalries and ideological differences treated each with a modicum of respect, attended each other’s family weddings and even ate from the same table. Some say that the embrace of the culture of the north has been so complete, that respect is now at a premium; it’s only money and deals and counter-deals that talk. The JD(S) accused of doing a deal in far away Singapore with the BJP, and the JD(S) accusing the Congress of doing the same!!
Either way, most concede that even they were shocked at the manner in which the Lingayat face of the BJP, B.S. Yeddyurappa was treated. Clearly, the Varuna slap in the face has not gone down well in the Yeddyurappa camp, all protestations to the contrary notwithstanding. From the shock and consternation at the very public humiliation when BSY heard his son had been denied a ticket with the letter signed, sealed and delivered by J.P. Nadda, to the curt, six minute meeting with the BJP president on Friday and the strange interact with the media thereafter, where he said he was only getting one chance to share a podium with the prime minister… in the backrooms where guards and journalists are privy to conversations that no-one else hears, the cold vibes that marked Mr Yeddyurappa’s interaction with the BJP strategists was noted.
It adds up to the whispered chit-chat that if Mr Yeddyurappa could not get his own son and close aides, tickets, would he even get to be chief minister, and if he did, would he be allowed to call the shots?
The secret census that Chief Minister Siddarmaiah conducted and which showed that the Lingayat numbers had indeed gone down, and that the Kurubas across the state were just as determined to bring their icon back to power is the other persistent narrative that is said to influence strategy, both in the Congress and the BJP.
Would a hurt BSY do the unthinkable again and take his Lingayat vote elsewhere? Redux 2013? Clearly, the BJP doesn’t seem as sure-footed or as instinctive as it is, north of the Vindhyas. Many are using a tongue-twister of a phrase in Telugu to sum up the twin bungles in Varuna and the Reddy induction, saying the BJP’s fare is ‘vanta chediapiandi’- way too much salt, way too much spice, virtually inedible.
Again, while Siddaramaiah’s task to stitch together a rural- urban kambali – the shawl woven by his Kuruba community – has been meticulous (his own numbers are 115, the BJP equally confident at getting to 111, and the JD(S) bluster at 50) , his enemies are legion. Within the party every senior leader wants to deny him a shy at a second term as chief minister when he could become “even less accommodating” than he is today; There’s no secret who’s gunning for him, from without.
In a state peopled by politicians who rarely raise the tempo, let alone spar openly, Karnataka which is normally easy to read, has everyone foxed. For the insider, as much as for the outsider.
The author is Resident Editor, Deccan Chronicle...