He could not have been unaware of the impact of his words, and how they would appear to readers. Yet BS Yeddyurappa, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s chief minister face in the upcoming Karnataka assembly elections, told the Times of India on April 26 that he had ‘pardoned’ controversial, mining scam-tainted G Janardhana Reddy in the interest of the state. Yeddyurappa was talking about forgiving those in BJP who worked against him in the past. But of course, the ToI splashed these words as its headline the next morning: “I have pardoned G Janardhana Reddy in interest of state, says BS Yeddyurappa”.
This was just a day after BJP President Amit Shah’s trusted lieutenant, Union Minister Prakash Javadekar told the media that G Janardhana Reddy is not the party's star campaigner, as he is only "campaigning for his friends in some constituencies".
The Yeddyurappa headline was a virtual gift to the ruling Congress, which has been going hammer and tongs at the BJP on corruption after the party gave tickets to the elder and younger brothers and nephew of G Janardhan Reddy for the upcoming elections. In a scathing attack on Thursday, Congress President Rahul Gandhi dared Prime Minister Narendra Modi to clarify why the BJP fielded the brothers, saying “Modi, who talks about fighting corruption, must explain to the people why he is supporting the corrupt Reddy brothers by giving ticket to contest in the state assembly polls”.
Chief Minister Siddaramaiah immediately pounced. “Very interesting! BS Yeddyurappa has pardoned Reddy in interest of the state. Which interest of Karnataka is served by pardoning someone who looted thousands of crores of Kannadigas’ wealth? Is it up to you to pardon him? Did you ask PM Modi to direct CBI to formalise the ‘pardon’?”, tweeted the Karnataka CM.
G Janardhana Reddy was arrested and jailed for about two years after the state's Lokayukta named him in the multi-crore iron ore mining scam in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. Yeddyurappa’s past tenure as CM was so riddled with corruption accusations that Yeddyurappa himself had to resign and later spent time in jail. The BJP government saw three chief ministers in it’s 5-year tenure. Memories of that period have been jogged by the sight of G Janardhana Reddy campaigning in Molakalmuru along with his close associate, BJP candidate B Sriramulu, Yeddyurappa and Madhya Pradesh CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan (see photo).
After Yeddyurappa’s ToI splash, News9 reported that BJP had jumped into damage control mode on Friday and asked Janardhana Reddy to stop “public campaign” for the party ahead of the assembly elections.
Despite Amit Shah shifting base to Bengaluru to micro-manage the election alongwith his trusted advisors like Ram Madhav, Piyush Goyal and Javadekar, all of whom are from outside the state, an upset Yeddyurappa may destroy all of BJP’s best laid plans. Reportedly, Shah held a late night meeting on April 26 with senior BJP leaders at his Bengaluru residence, but Yeddyurappa did not attend. Sources say Yeddyurappa has hardly been campaigning for the last four days.
It’s being speculated that Yeddyurappa remains furious over the decision to drop his son BY Vijayendra’s candidature in the Varuna seat. Yeddyurappa’s trusted advisor Shobha Karandlaje was also denied a ticket on grounds of being a sitting MP, a logic which was not applied in the case of B Sriramulu.
Amit Shah needs to refer back only till as far as the last Karnataka assembly election to understand the impact a divided BJP camp and an angry Yeddyurappa can have on the final result. Javadekar and Goyal, thus, have been busy trying to quell dissent and anger among the party cadre, after reports that BJP workers loyal to Vijayendra were distributing pamphlets in Varuna with BJP symbol 'lotus' inverted, and asking people not to vote for BJP but to exercise the 'NOTA' option. Vijayendra’s supporters had reportedly blamed Union Minister Ananth Kumar, a long-standing rival of Yeddyurappa, for the last minute decision to drop his candidature, bringing rifts in the BJP into the public eye.
BS Yeddyurappa tried to damp down the fires on Friday, saying that the party “high command” had decided that both father and son duo shouldn't be contesting polls this time. He also issued an appeal to BJP workers not to create awareness about NOTA.
Whether this appeal will make the desired impression on the “high command” and more importantly the public after today’s embarrassing headline, will be known soon enough. Karnataka votes on May 12.
With agency inputs.