Bangalore: The BJP's top leaders Arun Jaitley and Rajnath Singh are headed to Bangalore to oversee the DV Sadananda Gowda to Jagadish Shettar transition in Karnataka. Mr Shettar is all set to be the state's third Chief Minister in four years, not a happy statistic.
But for the BJP, an affable and dignified Mr Gowda keeping his smile and giving up the Chief Minister's seat without histrionics has meant that its big Karnataka crisis has blown over for the moment. Though BS Yeddyurappa has emphatically proved again that only he calls the shots in the state. Jagadish Shettar, a fellow Lingayat, is his choice as the new Karnataka Chief Minister.
Sadananda Gowda, who too was picked to be CM by Mr Yeddyurappa last year, but who fell foul of his mentor, handed his resignation to BJP president Nitin Gadkari yesterday. He now has to actually resign by handing in his papers to Governor HR Bhardwaj; that is likely to happen after party MLAs meet tomorrow to formally elect Mr Shettar as their leader. He is likely to be sworn in on Wednesday, July 11.
For many months now, Mr Yeddyurappa had been flexing some serious political muscle in his bid to oust Mr Gowda and the party leadership finally gave in keeping in view the Assembly elections next year. The party will then need Mr Yeddyurappa, who as the tallest leader of the powerful Lingayat community, had won Karnataka for the BJP in 2008; its first state in southern India.
Yesterday, a distinctly relieved Nitin Gadkari had much praise for Mr Gowda's 11 months as CM, but admitted that political imperatives necessitated the change of guard. "We needed to make some decisions keeping the forthcoming elections in mind," Mr Gadkari said.
Karnataka votes in a new Assembly in about 10 months and the sub text of Mr Gadkari's words is that the BJP not only needs to end the rebellion in its ranks but also needs to get its caste calculations right if it has to have a chance at retaining the state. The party hopes getting back a Lingayat Chief Minister will help retain the support of that community.
It of course has to balance things to ensure that another major community, the Vokkaligas, does not take umbrage at the change of guard. Mr Gowda is a Vokkaliga and though his quiet surrender to internal party politics has ensured that there is no overt uprising from his community yet, the BJP has to find an honourable exit for him by giving him a key post. The party is also said to be chalking out key roles for Vokkaliga leader R Ashok, who is home minister and Kuruba leader KS Eshwarappa, the party's state president.
When Mr Yeddyurappa was forced to resign as Karnataka chief minister last year after being indicted in illegal mining cases by the state ombudsman or Lokayukta, Mr Shettar had thrown his hat in the ring as a natural replacement. At that time, however, Mr Yeddyurappa was sure it would be a matter of months before he cleared his name and was back as CM. He is believed to have been reluctant to hand over power to another Lingayat leader and picked Mr Gowda instead.
But earlier this year, when a CBI investigation was ordered against Mr Yeddyurappa in corruption cases and an early return to power seemed impossible, Mr Yeddyurappa changed tack and played the community card. With more than half of the BJP's legislators reportedly backing him, he demanded that a Lingayat leader, specifically Mr Shettar, be made CM. Matters came to a head a few days ago when nine ministers, including Mr Shettar, resigned demanding that Mr Gowda be removed. They withdrew their resignations only when the party assured them that their demand would be addressed soon.
Mr Shettar's biggest advantage, the backing of Mr Yeddyurappa, is also expected to be his biggest disadvantage. It is clear that he has got a chance at the CM's post because of Mr Yeddyurappa and will carry, as did Mr Gowda to begin with, the tag of a "rubber stamp" chief minister. Mr Gowda's attempt at losing that tag and coming into his own cost him the seat that Mr Yeddyurappa has secured for him last year.
The BJP wanted to delay the change till after the elections for the President of India are held on July 19. Their candidate is PA Sangma; he is taking on the UPA's Pranab Mukherjee. But an unhappy Mr Yeddyurappa could have meant a large section of the party's legislators from Karnataka would be tempted to vote against their own candidate in a show of defiance and strength.
Mr Gowda's dismissal has caused disquiet in the National Democratic Alliance that the BJP leads. "NDA is in loss, and Sadananda Gowda has been martyred, but their party and our party are different, and it's their own matter," said Sharad Yadav, who heads the Janata Dal(United), a key BJP ally.
The Congress has expectedly sought to make political capital out of the BJP's Karnataka woes. "The BJP high command has no control over Karnataka. The BJP in Karnataka is acting like an independent party. They are giving clear messages to the state party," said Congress leader Veerappa Moily.