By DR SANDEEP SHASTRI
The last one week has seen a furious debate in Karnataka on the entry of those with a controversial track record as candidates, star campaigners and key financers. This malaise appears to have afflicted the three major political parties. When representatives of each of the political parties have been quizzed on the entry and prominence given to those embroiled in controversies and corruption charges, the common response has been a counter-attack highlighting the list of tainted candidates and leaders promoted by their rivals.
The latest debate has been on the re-appearance of the Reddy brothers in the BJPelection platform. In spite of the many serious controversies that the Reddy brothers have been mired in, the BJP has thought it fit to give them a prominent place in their scheme of things. If reports are to be believed, as many as nine candidates are directly linked to the Reddy brothers.
What were the compulsions for the BJP to endorse the presence and participation of the Reddy brothers in their electoral game plan? In a close election, parties tend to cast aside considerations of propriety, principles and probity and embrace anything and everything that would give them the electoral advantage. The discomfort of the BJP on having associated the Reddy brothers is patently visible in the decision of the BJP President Amit Shah to cancel his rally in Bellary, the seat of power of the Reddy brothers and indications are that Prime Minister Modi too may cancel his Bellary engagement. Earlier, the BJP President had categorically stated that Janardhan Reddy, the most prominent (and controversial) Reddy brother was not associated with the BJP. As the nominations of candidates was being finalised, it increasingly became evident that the BJP was finding it difficult to fully side-track the mining barons. BJP’s Chief Ministerial candidate has now asserted that he has forgiven the Reddy brothers for all the problems that they caused him and his BJP government. His act of forgiveness has in a sense let loose and given legitimacy to a brand of politics that Karnataka could well do without.
It is important to note that BJP’s entry into Bellary district as a political force was largely on account of the role of the Reddy brothers. This was a Congress bastion for several years, which even elected Sonia Gandhi to the Loki Sabha in 2004. One also remembers the famous photograph of Sushma Swaraj blessing the Reddy brothers during the heydays of their power and presence.
The downslide began when the BJP came to power in 2008 and two of the Reddy brothers became members of the Cabinet and seemed to wield an enormous influence both in the government and within the state unit of the party. Many would associate the poor image of the BJP government and endless internal squabbles in the state unit of the party to the undue importance given to the Reddy brothers and the power they were perceived to wield. The fall was quick and dramatic and their exit from the government and the party was equally swift.
Their return to a position of influence in the party vividly outlines the desperation of the BJP to win Karnataka. Power at any cost, seems to be the new slogan. It would make the BJP attack on Siddaramaiah as heading a 10 per cent government sound hollow and unconvincing. The BJP leadership would find it difficult to claim the ‘high moral ground’ of ‘Neither being corrupt nor encouraging the corrupt’.
Clearly, for the BJP, the political rehabilitation of the Reddy brothers is aimed at mopping up those few extra seats that their influence (and resources) can make a difference in. Yet, the immediate implications of their presence on the ‘political culture’ around the time of elections cannot be ignored. The long-term costs of this ‘legitimisation’ can also be equally perilous to the health of the democratic processes in Karnataka. In the hope of short-term political and electoral gain, the BJP appears to be unwilling to recognise the all too familiar long-term disastrous consequences.