Crippled by corruption, Karnataka is now brutalised by blackmail. Corruption was the collective contribution of all parties. What the Congress carried on quietly, the JD (S) took up with gusto and BJP turned into a celebration. Blackmail is the exclusive contribution of the BJP. Congressmen can't think of it because they shudder before their High Command. In the BJP, the High Command shudders before Yeddyurappa. Yeddyurappa's victory is BJP's tragedy – and Karnataka's misfortune.
Look at the misfortune first. Historically one of India's best-governed states, Karnataka witnessed audacious misuse of power from the day BJP's first Chief Minister took office. He and some of his colleagues focussed on illegal land transactions as a major activity of government. The principal financiers of the party, the Bellary lobby, took to plain plundering of the state's good earth in violation of many laws. Wounded by its keepers, Karnataka bled.
When half a dozen ministers including the Chief Minister were jailed, prudence demanded a moment's pause. The BJP as a party and the state government as a constitutional entity should have re-looked at where they were going. They didn't. Instead, they mounted a show of defiance, politicians looking for loopholes in the law and the Bellary Brotherhood making a suspected bid to bribe a judge. The judge landed in jail in a demonstration of the ugliness of today's politics.
The neglect of governance could not have happened at a more inopportune moment. The state was in the grip of a serious drought, but Water Resources Minister Bommai had no time to bother about it. Farmers were facing starvation, but Agriculture Minister Katti was busy with resignation games. A grand show was held a couple of months ago to attract big-ticket investments to the state. Industrialists were upset that not a file moved since the show because Industries Minister Nirani was in the plot to topple the Chief Minister.
All this to satisfy one man's ambition. So all-consuming was Yeddyurappa's passion for power that even after coming out of jail, he acted as though nothing untoward had happened. He spent his not negligible resources to keep a few dozen MLAs on his side. This support base was a weapon with which he threatened the party bosses in Delhi, knowing well that the bosses would go to any length to see that the BJP did not lose Karnataka. Although his threats were effective, Yeddyurappa knew that he was too tainted to become Chief Minister in one go. He had a solution to that problem too. He found in foe-turned-friend Jagadish Shettar the fittest person to become the Manmohan Singh of Karnataka, and let him, Yeddyurappa, be the Sonia Gandhi of Karnataka.
The puzzle is that the BJP's leaders in Delhi do not see that approving Yeddyurappa's scheme is equal to approving corruption. They are said to condone Yeddyurappa's record including the jailing so as to ensure the allegiance of the Lingayat community. First of all, will the BJP really gain by doing what no party has openly done before, namely, split Karnataka into Lingayats (17 percent), Vokkaligas (15 percent) and others (68 percent)? Secondly, how do they know that the silent majority of Lingayats will accept the position that they have no leader other than the second most tainted politician in Karnataka's history (after Janardhana Reddy)? This is a community that gave India one of its noblest philosophical creeds. It has a proud public record and several eminent leaders.
On the other hand, a principled stand against the threat politics of Yeddyurappa could give the BJP a swing in its favour. Yeddyurappa's flaunted support base is sustained by the feeling among BJP legislators that his bullying will put him back in power. Call that bluff and the support will melt away. The Congress and the JD (S) are in a mess, which gives the BJP a reasonable chance to beat them at the next election. But the rivals have a propaganda plank that is powerful: that the BJP promotes corruption officially. The BJP can demolish that plank. All it needs is some guts.