Operation Withering lotus

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Quit BJP Raju Gouda (left) and CP Yogeshwar outside Raj Bhavan, Bengaluru, Photo: Bangalore News Photos

WITH KARNATAKA heading for Assembly polls in May, a number of BJP legislators, including ministers, have quit the ruling party, and some of them are knocking on the doors of the Congress for election tickets. Falling popularity ratings of the BJP in the state and predictions of a bad performance in the upcoming poll seem to have pushed them to abandon the party in power.

On 22 February, Forest Minister and Channapatna MLA CP Yogeshwar quit his post in the Jagadish Shettar Cabinet and also resigned from his Assembly seat. Earlier in the Congress, Yogeshwar had switched sides to Janata Dal (Secular) and later joined the BJP in 2009.

Yogeshwar is just one in a growing list of BJP legislators who are quitting their posts. Narasimha Naik (alias Raju Gouda) too has resigned as the small-scale industries minister. Karwar MLA Anand V Astonikar, who was in the Congress before joining the BJP in 2008, and Maski MLA Prathap Gowda Patil have also decided to call it quits and are lobbying with the Congress high command for tickets.

Moreover, independent MLAs Venkataramanappa, D Sudhakar and PM Narendraswamy — all former members of the Congress, who turned rebels in the 2008 Assembly election and supported the BJP — are also looking at the Congress again to give them tickets.

However, not everyone who is leaving the BJP is making a beeline to join the Congress. Senior BJP member and four-time MLA from Chamarajanagara constituency in Mysore, HS Shankaralinge Gowda has joined the JD(S).

Interestingly, most of these legislators had switched their loyalty to the BJP in 2008, when the party, struggling to form a majority in the Assembly, had conducted ‘Operation Lotus’ to poach MLAs from other parties. Five independent and seven Congress MLAs had crossed over to the BJP. Now they are switching sides again with the BJP’s dwindling political fortunes in the state. “We poached MLAs from rival parties. And it has rebounded now,” admits former Karnataka chief minister and senior BJP leader DV Sadananda Gowda. “We are reaping what we have sown.”

The RSS, however, is seeing the exodus as good riddance. The organisation had always considered those who joined the BJP during Operation Lotus as ‘outsiders’, hence not loyal to the Hindutva ideology.

In January, 11 BJP legislators had quit to join BS Yeddyurappa’s Karnataka Janata Paksha. Most of them owed their rise in the BJP to the former CM and Lingayat leader, and chose to align with his new outfit.

The BJP now has only 104 seats in the 225-member Assembly. Though the Karnataka government has received a serious jolt, Chief Minister Shettar still insists “there is no threat”.

HOWEVER, SENIOR state leaders of the Congress are not happy with the influx of MLAs from the BJP and some of them have written to the party high command expressing their reservations. “Most of them have a history of ditching our party,” says a senior Congress leader. But even he admits that the rebel candidates represent constituencies where the Congress doesn’t have an alternative candidate. G Parameshwara, president of the Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee, says on a cautious note that the rebels are welcome to join the party, “but it’s for the high command to take the final call on who will be issued tickets”.

These developments are not likely to affect the BJP drastically, asserts Sandeep Shastri, a political analyst and pro-vice-chancellor of Jain University in Bengaluru. “The BJP is a sinking ship. One more hole will not make any difference,” he says. “Both the government and the party are in a shambles, lacking leadership and direction. It’s the worst period for the BJP since the 1980s.”

imran@tehelka.com

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