It was former Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao who is credited with the view that crisis management often involves doing absolutely nothing.
However, unlike the present occupant of 7 Race Course Road who falls back on inaction because he is powerless to do anything, Rao’s passivity was often pre-meditated and born out of careful calculation.
It is entirely possible that the prevarication that led to the BJP leadership persisting with Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank’ in Uttarakhand till six months before the polls was born out of a similar careful calculation. It was, however, such a complex calculation that that its logic by-passed the ordinary voters of the State. The voters of Uttarakhand could never understand the rationale of the BJP playing political football with a leader of such extraordinary standing as General BC Khanduri.
The possible reasons why the BJP preferred management by inaction in Uttarakhand for as long as it did are open to interpretation. Casual observers can only presume that Nishank’s great skills of survival had little to do with pilgrimage holidays for leaders and their families, and his ability to keep a few relevant people happy.
The Uttarakhand experience is relevant today because for some compelling reasons the BJP seems determined to repeat the process in Karnataka — a State where drift, mismanagement and incompetence appear to have become the defining features of the State Government’s political management.
Arguably, it is not a problem of the party’s own making. Had it not been for a completely motivated and erroneous judgement by former State Lokayukta and Team Anna activist Santosh Hegde, the popularly elected Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa would have been in place. After all, the BJP had won the Assembly election in 2008 by projecting Yeddyurappa as its chief ministerial candidate. The Lokayukta verdict of nepotism against Yeddyurappa forced his resignation in July 2011 and his replacement by the amiable but political lightweight Sadanand Gowda. The understanding was that Yeddyurappa would reclaim his chief ministerial position once he had cleared his name in the courts.
It stands to reason that after Yeddyurappa was cleared by the High Court of the tendentious charges levelled at him by the Lokayukta that he would want his job back. For the BJP too, Yeddyurappa’s exoneration (and the corresponding removal of some of the party’s rotten apples from Bellary) should have come as a great relief. In the past six months, Sadanand Gowda had proved unequal to the task of managing the State. His lack of political standing came in the way of being able to balance and manage conflicting interests in a State where a spectacular real estate and mining boom helped fuel corruption on a grand scale.
Just as each extra day of a venal Nishank Government added to the disrepute of the BJP in Uttarakhand, persisting with a weak and politically inept Sadanand Gowda administration has been damaging the BJP with every passing day. The Chief Minister’s inability to retain the Udipi-Chikmagalur Lok Sabha seat (which he had vacated) for the BJP candidate spoke volumes about his own standing in the State. Every indication pointed to the need for Yeddyurappa to resume from where he had left off.
With the majority of the BJP MLAs and the MPs from Karnataka reposing faith in Yeddyurappa, there were no political obstacles to the restoration. The question, therefore, arises: Why has Yeddyurappa not been reinstated as yet? Why does uncertainty persist over the future of Karnataka which allows people to fish in troubled waters?
The answer, ironically, lies in the BJP Parliamentary Board, the supreme decision-making body of the party which behaved so generously towards Nishank and which is now showing its unwillingness to have Yeddyurappa at the helm in Bengaluru. The peculiar feature of the Parliamentary Board is that it does not matter what the majority thinks. What matters is that a determined minority can block decisions and force the party into a state of indecisiveness. That is what happened with Nishank: His removal was doggedly resisted by venerable veterans till the bitter end. Today, Yeddyurappa’s reinstallation is being opposed by the same quarter for reasons that are difficult to comprehend.
What is happening is utterly bewildering. The democratic wishes of an entire State party and the overwhelming majority of its elected MPs and MLAs are being subverted because there is a veto in Delhi. The BJP doesn’t move until there is total agreement of its members or until the president puts his foot down and forces a decision. With Nitin Gadkari insufficiently strong to press a decision, the collective wishes of the Karnataka party are being subverted by just two individuals in Delhi.
In the past this high command culture in the Congress had given birth to severe distortions and destroyed the umbrella character of the party. In the past two years, the Congress high command’s inability to stomach the choice of MLAs in Andhra Pradesh had triggered the rebellion of Jagan Mohan Reddy. A similar situation in West Bengal had led to Mamata Banerjee’s departure from the parent party in 1996.
The Congress and BJP are different parties. However, the impression that there are BJP leaders determined to force Yeddyurappa into a corner and compel him to form a regional party is too compelling to disregard. The BJP’s slow demise in Karnataka is a case study in political self-destruction.