BJP's south India power foray may be one-time wonder (Karnataka Newsletter)
By V.S. Karnic, Bangalore, March 15 : The BJP in power in a south Indian state may well end up as a one-time affair as the party was routed in the just-concluded Karnataka municipal polls that came two months ahead of the assembly elections.
The Bharatiya Janata Party, generally perceived to enjoy large support in urban areas, lost heavily in the March 7 polls for the 207 urban local bodies (ULBs). The BJP's performance this time, when it is in power for the first time in the state, was worse than the last ULB elections in 2007, a clear reflection of the disenchantment of urban voters with the party.
The BJP state leaders have blamed lack of unity and formation of two parties by two former BJP men - the party's first chief minister in the state B.S. Yeddyurappa and former minister B. Sriramulu - for the poor show.
However, apart from statements that the party is capable of taking "corrective measures" to win the assembly polls, neither the state nor the central leaders of the party have given any indication of what plans they have to retain power.
The defeat in the ULB polls is unlikely to bring any unity as the party performed poorly on the home turf of most of the state leaders - Chief Minister Jagadish Shettar, his predecessor D.V. Sadananda Gowda, state unit president K.S. Eshwarappa and strong contenders for his post and Lok Sabha members Pralhad Joshi and Nalin Kumar Kateel.
Gowda and Kateel are from coastal Karnataka, Joshi is from Shettar's home district of Dharwad in north Karnataka and Eshwarappa is from central Karnataka district of Shimoga, which is also Yeddyurappa's political base.
The BJP's problems are compounded by the fact that it does not have a leader either at the state or central level with an all-Karnataka appeal.
Whatever little good the party has done has been overshadowed by corruption scandals during Yeddyurappa's 2008-2011 tenure, several rebellions and frequent changes of chief ministers.
Shettar is the party's third chief minister. He took over from Gowda last July. Gowda succeeded Yeddyurappa in August 2011 and lasted 11 months.
The party's image has also been battered by the excesses of right-wing Hindu activists, particularly in its coastal Karnataka stronghold.
The most notorious incident was the brutal attack by Sri Rama Sene (Army of Lord Rama) men on a group of women in a pub in Mangalore, the main town along the coast, about 350km from Bangalore, in 2009.
The result was the BJP lost heavily in the ULB polls in the coastal area, despite a vigorous campaign by Gowda and Kateel.
With Yeddyurappa making the BJP's defeat his main goal, the party's problems continue to grow.
He and his supporters, who are also former BJP men, are painting the party black. They are giving the impression to the voters that BJP leaders at the national level are not trustworthy and the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh) claims of non-interference in the BJP is all hogwash.
All these problems are making it difficult for the BJP to firm up any clear strategy as the party has to not only counter them but convince the voters that it will not allow recurrence of scandals and dissidence.
The BJP's track record in Karnataka since it came to power for the first time in May 2008 indicates it is incapable of clear and firm decisions, hardly a character that can regain the confidence of voters to give the party another term.
(V.S. Karnic can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)