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C for caste, M for morality

delhi Updated: Nov 26, 2010 00:55 IST
Shekhar Iyer
Shekhar Iyer
Hindustan Times
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When Rajya Sabha leader of the opposition Arun Jaitley addressed the HT Leadership Summit last week, he listed five areas of deep concern facing the nation in the next 20 years.

Of those, he said, "Caste-centric parties gaining social sanction in the face of issues like corruption and becoming a challenge to good governance" undermined democracy.

Ironically, Jaitley's party, the BJP, has fallen prey to this kind of politics.

On a day the BJP leaders should be celebrating the party's astounding success in Bihar in the company of Nitish Kumar as a victory of " development over caste-politics", they were forced to duck Congress chief Sonia Gandhi's line of fire for retaining a regional satrap who turned the tables using his caste card — despite serious cases of corruption and nepotism surrounding him.

The BJP's formal announcement on its capitulation before Karnataka chief minister Bookanakera Siddalingappa Yeddyurappa (57), or BSY for short, was timed to be drowned in the Nitish Kumar-led combine's electoral sweep of Bihar.

Until Sunday, the BJP's core group, euphemistically known as the high command, had firmed up its mind that BSY had to go out office because of the land-grabbing scam.

But realpolitik came in the way of the party sacrificing its first government in the south.

Party president Nitin Gadkari, whose job was to secure BSY's resignation by "coaxing" him to leave in dignity, realised that his public posturing of alternating between defiance and abiding by the party was backed by a possibility of the saffron party's first spell of power in Karnataka going haywire.

Shocked at BSY's belligerence before TV channels, a senior BJP leader and former Union minister who is a member of the BJP core group couldn't help asking other leaders, "What's going on? Wasn't he supposed to quit by now?"

First BSY publicly declared he would not quit, and later amended his position to say he hadn't been asked to do so. Later, he managed to show that his MLAs could revolt.

When he was asked to come to Delhi on Sunday afternoon, he used the day instead to garner support. He sent his ministers VS Acharya and R Ashok and his political secretary Dhanajay Kumar to mount pressure in his favour.

But, by Tuesday evening, it was the BJP that looked horribly lost.

BSY-backers among BJP MPs from Karnataka sought to disrupt a meeting of the BJP parliamentary party to press for his continuance and got Lingayat leaders to call up seniors in Delhi in his support.

Nearly 17 Lok Sabha MPs told the party interlocutors that they couldn't hope to win again if the Lingayats felt slighted because of BSY's exit.

The BJP's patriarch LK Advani, who always emphasises probity in public life, didn't want to meet BSY when the latter sought an audience. But that did not deter BSY, who used his Lingayat caste card and the "after me, the deluge" threat to browbeat the party into submission.

The show of strength by BSY's men brought back the memories of the defiance of Vasundhara Raje, who refused to quit for five months as leader of the opposition in the Rajasthan assembly. She had refused to accept blame for the party's bad showing in the state as well as the Lok Sabha polls. She too had BJP MLAs in Delhi rallying for support.

Similarly, BSY laid blame on his long-standing rival, party's general secretary Ananth Kumar, the Reddy brothers (Janardhan and Karunakara – mining barons and also ministers in his Cabinet) and their "mentor", Lok Sabha leader of the opposition Sushma Swaraj.

"Aren't the Reddys more corrupt? What about Ananth Kumar? Why don't you act against them?" he is said to have asked Gadkari.

Gadkari sought the services of Jaitley and Venkaiah Naidu to make BSY see the immense damage being caused to the BJP's image. But all they could manage was getting him to agree to send his sons out of home and tone down his display of defiance by writing to the BJP chief saying "if the party asks me to continue or quit, I will always follow it".

But that was after BSY knew he had extracted a reprieve and not before he had made it clear (in the same letter) that "I cannot accept these false charges (of land scams) and the allegation that I have ever defied the party".

BSY showed files pertaining to previous chief ministers HD Kumaraswamy and SM Krishna (external affairs minister now) on how they had used "discretionary powers" to grant favours.

The truth was BSY's triumph card was his caste loyalty. The Lingayats, to which he belongs, constitute more than 17% of Karnataka's voters. They switched loyalty on a large scale to the BJP in the 2008 polls. Central BJP leaders sought to extract a guarantee from BSY that he would quit after the December panchayat polls but he isn't like to go unless the probe by a former high court judge (which he has ordered) finds him guilty.

So when Gadkari's announcement on Karnataka was made amid celebrations for the Bihar results, there wasn't even a rider. It was a carte blanche for him. The BJP's morality flag was at half-mast.