Within hours of the installation of Jagadish Shettar as Chief Minister, the ruling party is facing a fresh wave of dissent and acrimony over the composition of the new ministry. Surprisingly the backlash is more pronounced and vocal in the coastal Karnataka, where BJP MLAs and office-bearers always stood by the diktats of the party. The outrage against denial of ministership to Haladi Srinivasa Shetty, the third-time MLA from Kundapur, has spilled on to the streets of the coastal town, with his supporters observing a bandh on Friday. Similarly voices of dissent were heard from Sullia, the home-town of the dethroned chief minister D.V. Sadananda Gowda, over sidelining S. Angara, a four-time MLA. The office-bearers of the local unit have tendered resignation en masse in protest.
Even as the party leadership at the State and the district was grappled with the unexpected acrimony and protests, the BJP heavyweight from Bantwal B. Nagaraj Shetty dealt a severe blow by announcing his resignation from the party as well as from the chairmanship of the Coastal Development Authority. Although Mr. Shetty is known for somersaulting, the decision clearly brought to the fore the caste chasm within the BJP, which has always used the Hindutva plank in the coastal belt to mobilize the votes. The dominant Bunt community looks visibly upset with the shoddy treatment meted out to Halady Srinivasa Shetty, who was dumped at the last minute following interference by Kalladka Prabhakar Bhat, the RSS stalwart.
With the party leadership deciding not to re-induct Krishna Palemar for his alleged involvement in the porngate, it was speculated that Mr. Angara would get a Cabinet berth. It was also thought that the highcommand would try to assuage the heartburn suffered by the people of Dakshina Kannada after the unceremonious exit of Mr. Gowda. It was also important from the political point of view to secure a representation in the cabinet to retain BJP’s stranglehold on the coastal districts. But as is customary, every major decision related to the BJP in the district has to be vetted by the Kalladka stalwart. With both Nagraj Shetty and Palemar rubbing the Kalladka leader on the wrong side, it was evident that a relative lightweight and a staunch RSS loyalist would get the nod and the lucky person this time turned out to be Kota Srnivasa Poojary, an MLC.
According to sources, the factors that went against Halady were that he had defied the diktats of the Kalladka leader couple of times in the recent past. The Kundapur MLA had vehemently opposed the appointment of Kallada leader’s handpicked man as the chairman of the managing committee of the Kollur Mookambika temple. He had also defied Kalladka during the selection of the president of the BJP local unit. Mr. Shetty has also gone on record saying he had been denied ministerial berth at the instance of Kalladka Prabahkar Bhat. This is the first time in the history of the coastal Karnataka that the RSS stalwart has faced the ire of a BJP MLA for the “unsolicited interference” in the affairs of the BJP.
The BJP in both Dakshina Kannada and Udupi now appears to be a divided house, with equations like RSS loyalty and caste factor splitting the party vertically. This bodes ill for a party which has not long ago lost the Udupi-Chikcmagalur Lok Sabha byelection to Congress’s K. Jayaprakash Hegde, who is also a Bunt. Many in the community feel that they have been dealt a blow even before overcoming the agony of Sadananda Gowda’s unceremonious exit. With Assembly elections scheduled to be held in less than a year’s time, will the unprecedented bickering within the BJP lead to a major political upheaval in the coastal districts?