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Politics is about power

BJP, JD(S) and the Congress, will try to outwit each other, even though a mid-term poll would be the best way to settle the issue, writes Pankaj Vohra.

india Updated: Oct 08, 2007 04:05 IST
Pankaj Vohra

The game may appear to be over in Karnataka, with the BJP withdrawing support to the JD(S). This ends a 20-month association that had propelled former Prime Minister HD Deve Gowda’s son, HD Kumaraswamy, to the chief minister’s chair. Yet, it is more likely that the game has just started, as there are bound to be many more twists and turns in the ensuing tussle to wrest control of the state. All the three major parties, the BJP, JD(S) and the Congress, will try to outwit each other, even though a mid-term poll would be the best way to settle the issue.

A session of the Karnataka assembly has been convened on October 18 to test the strength of the government on the floor of the House. But a lot can happen before that. Deve Gowda is capable of doing anything to retain power. Despite the hard line he took in telling the BJP that his son would not hand over power to YS Yediyurappa, as per the rotational agreement reached upon by the two parties, he may eventually yield, or give the confrontation a totally new twist. The humble farmer may have fumbled, but his political instincts may still end up in his favour.

The BJP, which was hoping to lead a government in a southern state for the first time, is now banking on the sympathy vote to bail it out of the political mess. Factionalism in the Karnataka BJP has previously spoilt its chances at crucial stages. It is well-known that the BJP’s general secretary, Ananth Kumar, a four-time MP from Bangalore South and a LK Advani loyalist, and some local Karnataka leaders do not see eye to eye on several issues.

The saffron brigade was jubilant when Kumaraswamy had toppled the Dharam Singh government and successfully wooed the BJP. Deve Gowda had then given the impression that he was upset that his son had joined hands with a communal party, but was only too happy thereafter not only to forgive him but also to manage his political strategy. Deve Gowda cleverly realised that the BJP needed him more than he needed the BJP.

The BJP, in order to expand its base in south India, has tried to piggyback ride on regional outfits in all states. This, however, hasn’t worked lately. In Andhra Pradesh, it had used Chandrababu Naidu, who has now deserted the BJP to project himself as part of the proposed Third Front. The DMK supremo, M. Karunanidhi, became a BJP ally, but parted company with it to join hands with the UPA. The AIADMK chief, Jayalalithaa, is keeping her options open, and the BJP has virtually been decimated in Kerala. Worse, the latest spat between Advani and Karunanidhi over the Ram Setu has projected the party in a light it would have preferred not to be seen in.

The BJP was hoping that Karnataka would help it redeem itself in the south and help expand its base. But now, Deve Gowda has put a spanner in the works. Initially, it was being speculated whether Deve Gowda would honour the power-sharing commitment with the BJP or not. But what remains unsaid is why he should have honoured it given his past record. He has never shied away from demonstrating that scruples do not matter in politics; only power does.

There has also been a lot of talk of the BJP always ending up as the loser in power-sharing arrangements, having suffered twice before in UP. The only successful rotational experiment has been in Jammu and Kashmir between the Congress and the PDP, though at one time, leaders within the Congress were considering allowing Mufti Mohammad Sayeed a full six-year term.

The issue here is not that the BJP has been taken for a ride so many times because of its political naivete, but that the BJP does not mind being ditched as long as the Congress does not gain power. In other words, as long as a regional outfit continues to rule, the Sangh parivar is willing to look the other way. After all, the regional outfit could always become a possible NDA ally.

In Karnataka, the dilemma for the BJP is that Kumaraswamy is now seeking to prove his strength by either splitting the BJP or by seeking support from the Congress (which may not come). But the BJP is also being seen as a victim by its followers in the state and it may be an opportune time to exploit the sympathy.

Only time will tell whether that will work or not, but the party’s standing in the south appears to be badly affected. On top of this, the severe power struggle within the Sangh parivar, which may reach its decisive stage in the next few weeks, has also contributed to the party not taking some tough decisions on time. Deve Gowda, who is a compulsive political player, also senses that elections to the Lok Sabha may be around the corner. His gameplan is for parliamentary polls to be held with his son holding on to the CM’s post, even if in a caretaker capacity.

Deve Gowda realises that the Congress may pose a challenge to him in these polls. By shedding his communal garb in the shape of a tie-up with the BJP, he is going to project his party as a secular outfit once again. Hence, like Chandrababu Naidu, he would be acceptable to the Third Front that could be formed, with the Leftists lending support from within or outside.

Politics does make strange bedfellows and the wily Deve Gowda knows that. He is ready for another political marriage if it reaps dividends. Otherwise, he is capable of a reconciliation too, and the BJP is perhaps banking on that in this game of oneupmanship. Between us.