With a clear majority in the Bharatiya Janata Party State legislature wing voting for D.V. Sadananda Gowda as leader of the legislature party and chief ministerial candidate, an unedifying phase of factional struggle appears to be behind the party, at least for the present. With a consensus candidate eluding the two factions — the B.S. Yeddyurappa-led faction backed Mr. Gowda, and the H.N. Ananthkumar-led group fielded Rural Development and Panchayati Raj minister Jagadish Shettar — the central party leadership was obliged to accede to the demand for a secret ballot. Its outcome, a victory for Mr. Yeddyurappa, is already causing disquiet in the other faction even though Mr. Shettar has been promised the post of Deputy Chief Minister. A belligerent Mr. Yeddyurappa, who was forced to step down on July 31 following his indictment in the report on illegal mining by the Karnataka Lokayukta, bargained hard for a person of his choice as his successor. He rallied his supporters and let the central party leadership know that he was a force to reckon with. Nevertheless, his problems are far from over with Governor H.R. Bhardwaj, in a well-timed move, giving sanction to the Lokayukta police to prosecute him under the Prevention of Corruption Act.
While the BJP high command will be relieved that its only government in south India has been saved, the political crisis has not gone away. Indeed, it is this crisis that will present both challenges and opportunities for the incoming Chief Minister. The ever-smiling Mr. Gowda, Member of Parliament from Udupi-Chickmagalur in Dakshina Kannada district and a relatively non-controversial and affable figure in the party, has had no administrative experience. More importantly, he must shed the image of being Mr. Yeddyurappa's factotum. Mr. Gowda will be judged by how he confronts the issues of corruption plaguing the party and the government, and whether he allows the legal process in the two sets of cases before the Special Lokayukta Court pertaining to corruption allegations against Mr. Yeddyurappa to proceed unhindered. Illegal mining has cost the state Rs.16,085 crore, according to the Lokayukta report, which has also given a series of recommendations to prosecute the corrupt and cleanse the administrative machinery. It is for Mr. Gowda to implement the recommendations of the report. This may not be easy as, in addition to the outgoing Chief Minister, he will need to take on the powerful Bellary clique of Ministers and the vested interests that depend on illegal mining. For a start, his independence and seriousness of purpose will be seen in who he inducts into his Ministry — in the light of the indictments in the Lokayukta report.