New Delhi: Jagadish Shettar is going to be Karnataka's third BJP Chief Minister in four years. Sadananda Gowda, the man who precedes him, met BJP president Nitin Gadkari in Delhi this morning and submitted his resignation to him. Rural Development Minister Jagadish Shettar will replace him, Mr Gadkari announced soon after.
"I am an obedient soldier of the party. I have wholeheartedly accepted the verdict of the party," Mr Gowda who was in the Chief Minister's chair for a little over 11 months, told the media.
The meeting of the BJP legislature party to elect Jagadish Shettar formally as its leader will be held on July 10, say party sources and is likely to be sworn-in on July 11.
Mr Shettar has been handpicked by the BJP's strongman in the state, BS Yeddyurappa, much in the way the latter had picked Mr Gowda as his successor last year. For many months now Mr Yeddyurappa has been flexing some serious political muscle in his bid to oust Mr Gowda and the party leadership finally gave in. Senior party leaders Arun Jaitley and Rajnath Singh will go to Bangalore tomorrow as observers as the new CM is elected.
Mr Gowda is expected to be given an honourable exit; a distinctly relieved Mr Gadkari had fulsome praise for him today. Not once but several times did the party president thank the outgoing CM for agreeing to resign in the "best interest of the party." He praised Mr Gowda's 11-month stint as CM and, when asked, why then a change, said, "We needed to make some decisions keeping the forthcoming elections in mind."
Karnataka votes in a new Assembly in less than a year 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 only state it rules in south India.
Mr Shettar belongs to the Lingayat community, as does Mr Yeddyurappa. The latter had won the state for the BJP in the last Assembly elections with the full backing of his powerful community. The BJP hopes getting back a Lingayat Chief Minister will help retain that support. 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, a Vokkaliga, 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's complicated task is only half done though. While Mr Gowda threw no tantrums on his way out, bowing to the leadership's wishes in a dignified manner, the party will have to appease the Vokkaligas, another important community. It is now said to be chalking out key roles for Vokkaliga leaders like R Ashok, who is home minister and Kuruba leader KS Eshwarappa, the party's state president.
There is talk that Mr Gowda will be given a Rajya Sabha seat. He flew into the capital yesterday and met senior party leaders LK Advani, Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley. Mr Gowda has now returned to Bangalore where he is expected to meet the Governor soon to hand over his resignation.
Till the end, the famous smile had dimmed, but not entirely faded. The 59-year-old Mr Gowda has promised his "good friend" Mr Shettar all cooperation. "Shettar is very good friend of mine. He is more senior and more experienced. I will always give full cooperation to him and if I want to give any suggestion for the betterment (of administration), I will personally visit him and give my suggestions," he told reporters.
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.