B.S. Yeddyurappa’s political gamble in launching the Karnataka Janata Party at a massive rally on December 9 in Haveri has hit the Bharatiya Janata Party hard. In the run-up to the launch of the KJP, Mr. Yeddyurappa declared that he had the loyalty of 50 to 60 legislators of the BJP who would walk over at his bidding. The State BJP first scoffed, and then with ill-placed confidence threatened expulsion of those who attended the launch of the KJP and the breakfast meet preceding it. The rebel group defied the party on both counts. Fourteen BJP legislators participated in the rally, six BJP legislative council members were present on the dais, while 23 MLAs (including several ministers) broke bread with Mr. Yeddyurappa. The BJP, its bluster and confidence gone, has quietly capitulated and deferred and diluted its threat of disciplinary action against 20 of the rebels. It will now merely issue show-cause notices to the rebel faction, buying itself time to re-strategise. This elaborate shadow-boxing has given rise to a paradoxical situation in the Assembly. In a House that has a current strength of 223, and where the BJP’s formal strength is 118 (excluding the Speaker), there are 14 MLAs who have openly declared allegiance to Mr. Yeddyurappa’s KJP and yet choose not to resign as MLAs. On the other hand, the government’s continuance in office depends on these rebels. This establishes that the BJP is playing by the letter and not the spirit of democratic norms. Neither the ruling party nor the KJP faction would like to be seen as pulling down the government, as the State nears elections in May 2013.
The launch in Haveri — a massive show of popular mobilisation, and a demonstration of Mr. Yeddyurappa’s continuing hold over the BJP — is an ominous signal for the ruling dispensation. The chances that the KJP will trigger a broad re-alignment of political forces, attracting elements from disgruntled groups within the Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular), appear unlikely. Mr. Yeddyurappa’s secular protestations ring hollow, as do his attempts to project a clean image. In fact, the former Chief Minister, who was responsible for subverting the BJP’s promise of providing stability and good governance, has managed to deftly shift the onus of his failure on to the party. For the BJP, its first experiment with governance on its own in Karnataka has been a disappointment from the start. After promising an alternative to the Congress and the JD(S), the BJP has a record even more dismal than that of the previous governments. It is with this track-record of non-performance, instability and corruption that both the BJP and its doppelganger, the KJP, must go before the people.