Karnataka Rajya Sabha race heats up with former PM Deve Gowda contesting

Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge (third from right) files his nomination for Rajya Sabha polls, in Bengaluru. Photo: PTI
Karnataka threw up two surprises as the state finalised its candidates for the upper house: former Prime Minister HD Deve Gowda threw his hat in the ring although he had earlier said he was going to retire from politics; and the state unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was left stunned by the nomination of two candidates from the state for the Rajya Sabha who never figured in the recommendations sent by the unit.

Deve Gowda can win the seat only if he gets the support of the Congress from which his party, the Janata Dal Secular, has been estranged after the Congress-JDS alliance unravelled earlier, installing the BJP led by BS Yediyurappa in power in the state.  But the BJP had its share of shocks. Eranna Bhimappa Kadadi and Ashok Jasti — one Lingayat and one from the OBC — were named as the BJP's candidates for the upper house, bypassing the recommendation of the state unit chief Nalin Kumar Kateel and Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa, as well as the core committee of the state.

“This is humiliation. Why make the state party president, the core committee and the chief minister look small by not accommodating even one of the names they had sent? If these were the two names they (the centre) had wanted, why didn’t they tell the state unit to add them to the list?” asked an irate BJP source in Delhi.

Party leaders in Karnataka say the move is calculated to diminish the stature of the CM and create conditions for him to be eased out. They lay the blame at the door of party president JP Nadda and national general secretary (organisation) BL Santhosh.

This is not the first time Santhosh has weighed in on decisions in Karnataka. He started out as a pracharak, much like Narendra Modi, a ‘loan’ from the RSS to the BJP. When Modi became Gujarat chief minister, he broke a glass ceiling: and many pracharaks believed that they too could aspire to political positions. This was reinforced by the appointment of ML Khattar, another pracharak, as chief minister of Haryana. Santhosh’s area of work was Karnataka where he was the organisation secretary. But with his influence and over local leaders and strong views on how the BJP should be nurtured and built in Karnataka, a clash with the party's senior-most leader, Yediyurappa, was inevitable.

Santhosh was thought to be behind the rebellion of several BJP leaders, including KS Eshwarappa, something Yediyurappa claimed publicly. Eshwarappa virtually walked out of the BJP for a spell to launch his own outfit, which caused extensive instability in the BJP ahead of the 2018 assembly elections.

Interestingly, Ashok Jasti, one of the nominees, went along with Eshwarappa at the time. Yediyurappa loyalists believe this is clinching evidence that Santhosh convinced the central leadership to accommodate his nominees in the upper house. This, in turn, is a way of empire building with the eventual target of becoming chief minister of Karnataka.

Santhosh has brought many new faces and given them positions of prominence: like Janardhan Swamy, a techie who returned from the US to his district in Chitradurga to become an MP in 2009, Pratap Simha, the journalist-turned MP from Mysore, and most recently, Tejasvi Surya, the surprise Lok Sabha candidate from the Bangalore South seat after it was decided that Union Minister Ananth Kumar's widow Tejaswini will not be fielded,  48 hours after  she had opened her election office, inaugurated by the state BJP chief.

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