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The money minefields of Karnataka

The money minefields of Karnataka

Author: Neena Vyas
Publication: The Hindu
Date: November 3, 2009
URL: http://www.thehindu.com/2009/11/03/stories/2009110356130900.htm

The dividing line between money and business and politics is getting finer with each passing day.

Money and muscle have become part of the Indian political landscape - the growing number of multicrore-patis in Parliament and State legislatures are witness to this as are the increasing number of politicians who have had more than a brush with the law.
The amount of money spent by political parties for fighting elections has been going up steadily. If it was about a crore for a parliamentary seat a decade ago, this sum is not enough today even for contesting in an Assembly segment. And across the political spectrum from right to left, politicians agree that the situation has simply got out of hand in the southern States of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, with Tamil Nadu following at a safe distance.

When the last Assembly elections took place in Karnataka, a senior Bharatiya Janata Party leader said: "I have helped the party contest many state elections in the north as well as the south, but in Karnataka the scene was entirely different. I did not see so much cash flow as I have seen in the last few weeks." This impression is confirmed by senior leaders in the rival Congress who openly admit that in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka the amount of money needed to fight an election is simply obscene.

The genesis of the BJP's problems in Karnataka lies in money minefields - in the iron-ore rich belt around Bellary adjoining Andhra Pradesh. The story is that the Reddy brothers, G. Janardhana and G. Karunakara, apparently generously deployed their assets in the run-up to the last Assembly election. They have also been faultless about contributions to the party coffers, senior leaders admitted.

It is well understood in politics that there are no free lunches. But it seems that the recent problem arose because Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa tried to cut into the Bellary mining cake of the Reddy brothers by deploying Rural Development Minister Shobha Karandlaje, known to be close to him, to do this job. To add insult to injury "as many as 18 district officials in and around Bellary" were recently shuffled and replaced, said a senior functionary in the central BJP office.

That was the signal for revolt. The powerful Reddy brothers were up in arms against the Chief Minister and demanded his replacement. After all, money talks, and they were in a position to get support. They started working on Operation Topple Yeddyurappa.

The BJP is no exception to the general rule in national parties that wherever the party has a Chief Minister there is also a dissident faction that would like to see him or her toppled. The current perception about the BJP is that its central command structure is weak: party president Rajnath Singh's tenure is about to come to an end and so is the innings of Leader of the Opposition L.K. Advani. The party's crisis in Rajasthan lingered on for weeks precisely because of this. Now the Reddys and other disgruntled Karnataka legislators may have thought that this is the best time to strike. Also, Ananth Kumar, senior national general secretary, never an admirer of Mr. Yeddyurappa, has reportedly been fanning the flames of discontent, although officially the party has denied that he is encouraging the Reddys.

Where the Bellary brothers may have miscalculated is that despite their financial clout - or perhaps because of it - the Congress has refused to play ball with them. The BJP knows that without the Congress its government cannot easily be dislodged. The Congress' interests at this juncture seem to coincide with that of the BJP for any encouragement to the Reddy duo would have also encouraged Jaganmohan Reddy, powerful son of the late Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, who shares business interests with the two Bellary Reddys.

The BJP central command has calculated that it cannot afford to dislodge Mr. Yeddyurappa, who has emerged a powerful leader of the numerically strong Lingayat caste over the years. "Some years ago Mr. Yeddyurappa threatened to walk out of the party. He can do so again. If that happens, the BJP's hard-won base in Karnataka will be reduced considerably. The party cannot let that happen. Moreover, Mr. Yeddyurappa has strong support in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh," said a functionary. What will happen in the next few days it is hard to foretell, but the signals are that the central leadership will rally round Mr. Yeddyurappa and also get him to agree to roll back recent decisions not to the liking of the two Reddys. The Chief Minister will no doubt be advised to change his style of functioning. And he may take the hint. He will have to learn to live and let live. And the bottom line is that the problem is more about money and business than politics. This is no surprise as the dividing line between the two is getting finer with each passing day.

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