If he cannot be king, then he will be kingmaker. From the time he was dragged off the Chief Minister’s chair kicking and screaming, B.S. Yeddyurappa was intent on ruling Karnataka by proxy. And as the first step, he insisted on choosing his successor. But D.V. Sadananda Gowda, whether as proxy or otherwise, was always meant to be a stop-gap arrangement: to keep the seat warm while Mr. Yeddyurappa plotted his comeback and waited for some words of cheer from the courts hearing the corruption cases against him. But as it turned out, Mr. Gowda was not ready to do his benefactor’s bidding at every turn. When the Karnataka High Court quashed a portion of the Lokayukta report against him in March, Mr. Yeddyurappa made an effort to win back the CM’s post, but Mr. Gowda neatly left the matter for the national leadership of the Bharatiya Janata Party to decide. There was only a small window of opportunity for Mr. Yeddyurappa, as just two months later the Supreme Court ordered a CBI inquiry into the charges against him. In the eyes of those in the Yeddy camp, Mr. Gowda thereafter became unreliable, and they trained their guns on him. Truth to tell, Mr. Yeddyurappa enjoys the support of a majority of the members in the BJP legislature party, and the national leadership of the party could not but have let the democratic course prevail in deciding on the next CM. Mr. Yeddyurappa chose Jagadish Shettar, a fellow-Lingayat, to replace Mr. Gowda. Overnight, Mr. Shettar, whose claims were overlooked last year, became the automatic choice of a majority of the BJP’s MLAs.
But whether it’s Mr. Shettar or Mr. Gowda, Mr. Yeddyurappa’s design is the same: to be seen as the man to whom the BJP Chief Minister of Karnataka should be beholden. Mr. Shettar is not exactly a camp follower. But with Mr. Gowda’s example before him, he is unlikely to assert himself very soon. Another change at the helm, if done on the demand of the Yeddy camp, would make the BJP a laughing stock in Karnataka. After all, even if the election of the new leader is done democratically, the party would not like to be seen as bowing repeatedly to the unreasonable demands of a person who was forced to quit over allegations of corruption. With less than two years to go before the next general election, the BJP might have to look at the big picture, and not on saving a government whose term will end in May 2013. Unfortunately, in the last few weeks, the fight for the chief ministership took on casteist colours with Mr. Shettar seen as a Lingayat representative and Mr. Gowda as a Vokkaliga leader. If the BJP is to retain its first and only hold in south India, it will have to rise above petty and partisan politics and bring the focus back on development and livelihood issues.