Karnataka is getting its third Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chief minister in four years with the exit of Sadananda Gowda 11 months after he assumed office. Mr Gowda’s departure has been engineered by the same person who installed him in the first place — the then outgoing chief minister, B S Yeddyurappa. The two fell out almost immediately after Mr Gowda assumed office, when he turned out to be unwilling to step down and return the chair to Mr Yeddyurappa after a cooling-off period. The latter had been forced to resign under the most inglorious of circumstances when he was indicted by the state’s Lokayukta on serious charges of corruption. Mr Gowda was hardly able to settle down, eventually having to go on Mr Yeddyurappa’s sixth attempt to dislodge him. The incoming chief minister, Jagadish Shettar, will have barely a year in which to establish his credentials before Assembly elections in the state.
The central BJP leadership, which resisted Mr Yeddyurappa’s destabilising attempts for almost a year, can say that it is up to its local MLAs to choose a new leader. But it also ought to sit back and consider carefully the sort of politician it has left in charge of its unit in the south Indian state where it is most powerful — and what this choice does to the image and future of the party, not just in peninsular India but the country as a whole. Karnataka’s BJP leaders have failed their party in two critical ways. One, any attempt by the BJP to adopt the moral high ground against the Congress at the Centre on the matter of corruption has been set at naught by the party’s record in power in Karnataka. Not just a chief minister, but by now around half-a-dozen ministers have had to quit over corruption and other issues. Two, Mr Yeddyurappa’s eventual victory has underlined how the BJP in Karnataka is a predominantly caste-based party, drawing its main support from the dominant Lingayats, and issues of governance, or even the BJP’s own Hindutva ideology, have low priority.
It was left to the departing Mr Gowda to point out, when the state was plunged into the latest round of political turmoil, that the central BJP leadership should take a quick decision as large parts of the state were hit by drought and it was imperative to have in place an effective administration. Unfortunately, his departure will not lower the intensity of caste confrontation. Vokkaligas, the other dominant caste in the state, are likely to be upset about the way one of their members, Mr Gowda, has been treated. For Karnataka, its woes do not begin or end with the BJP. The Congress in the state is in such poor shape that hardly anybody expects it to capitalise on the BJP’s record in the next Assembly elections. The Karnataka Congress is also beset by leadership wrangles. Its leader Siddaramaiah recently threatened to quit over differences. Nor does the Janata Dal (Secular) of H D Deve Gowda inspire much confidence. So Karnataka’s chances of getting a moderately decent administration in the short or even medium term appear remote.