For the first time in his political career, luck deserted veteran Karnataka politician Jagadish Shettar when he was denied a nomination for the upcoming Assembly election. Trying to make the most of an unexpected situation, Shettar has shifted from the Bharatiya Janata Party to the Congress, hoping to regain his luck.
It’s not for nothing that Shettar had acquired the reputation of being a “lucky” politician. As long-time observers in his hometown Hubli say, his is the classic example of being in the right spot at the right time. He was elected as MLA riding on a religious controversy in Hubli, benefited from an intra-party rivalry that made him Leader of the Opposition and found himself being mentored by the wily B S Yediyurappa.
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Besides another BJP senior leader K S Eshwarappa, the surprise omission in the party’s list has been that of Shettar. The big daddy B S Yediyurappa opted out of contesting elections ostensibly for health reasons, but not before ensuring his home constituency, Shikaripura, was earmarked for his son B Y Vijayendra.
At a time when the ruling BJP is perceived as facing anti-incumbency in the run up to the election, the moot question is why did the central leadership drop Shettar. He’s personally considered among the “cleaner” politicians within the BJP ranks and has no major controversy dogging him. And, there is no notable alternative to him in his Hubli constituency.
In fact, since the moment Shettar was asked to “go home” ticketless by the BJP central leadership there has been a clamour in Hubli with several aspirants asking to be his replacement. Clearly, there is no readymade successor to Shettar.
One reason for being sidelined could be Shettar’s moderate demeanour which is anathema in today’s aggressively pro-Hindutva BJP, helmed by the Modi-Shah leadership. Within the BJP ranks, he has never been among hardliners.
If some of the newer candidates chosen by the party are taken into account, one common thread has been their strident Hindutva positions.
They come across as individuals who have no qualms in aggressively taking forward the Sangh Parivar ideology of communal polarisation. Fitting the bill, for example, is incumbent Udupi MLA Raghupati Bhat’s replacement Yashpal Suvarna.
In 1994, Shettar was propelled into the legislature riding on the Idgah Maidan dispute. He was at the time a small-time functionary with the district BJP. Though locals say Shettar did not play a major role in the violent controversy, he caught the party’s eye and was “lucky” to be given a ticket for the 1994 Assembly election.
The Idgah Maidan in the heart of Hubli flared up in the early 1990’s when right-wing Sangh Parivar activists demanded that it be allowed for use in Hindu festivals. For good measure, they also wanted it be used during Independence and Republic Day events. Violence broke out a few times followed by police firing and the deaths of a few people, caught in the crossfire.
The Idgah Maidan issue, coming in the aftermath of the Babri Masjid demolition, managed to polarise voters in the Hubli-Dharwad region. Originally a Janata Dal pocket borough, the dispute was amicably resolved between the communities when the party was in power with H D Deve Gowda as chief minister between 1994 and 1996.
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The Idgah Maidan issue benefited the BJP in the 1994 elections locally with Shettar winning the Hubli Rural seat. Yediyurappa took him under his wing, and since then Shettar has had a comparatively royal ride in the party. He benefited from the rivalry between Yediyurappa and another veteran BJP leader B B Shivappa in 1999, and was chosen as the Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly. Shivappa eventually died, heartbroken at having been denied that position.
Yediyurappa, who acquired the mantle of “Lingayat leader” from Ramakrishna Hegde after the 1999 elections, promoted Shettar who with his affable and moderate outlook did not seem to be threatening his position. Yediyurappa in that election had lost from Shikaripura, the only time he was defeated. He wanted Shettar to keep his seat warm within the BJP, which he did.
Shettar then went on to occupy the position of Assembly Speaker when BJP came to power on its own for the first time in the state in 2008, then became minister and even chief minister in 2012, all thanks to Yediyurappa. In 2019, Shettar again found himself in Yediyurappa’s ministry.
No wonder when news first broke a few days ago that Shettar would be denied a ticket for the upcoming election, Yediyurappa went on record to say that the party would eventually change its mind and accommodate him in the list. As it turned out, it looks like the veteran leader had used up all his clout to get a ticket for his son in Shikaripura and was unable to change Shettar’s fortune.
The big question mark is what kind of impact will a “humiliated” Shettar have on the outcome of elections in the Hubli region. Though Shettar claims the BJP will have to suffer the consequences in at least 20 North Karnataka constituencies, it is anybody’s guess as until now he has largely been a low-profile politician with no major achievement as minister or a mass base to crow about.
In 2013, as chief minister and as the one leading the Assembly election Shettar had the opportunity to prove himself when Yediyurappa broke away from the BJP. But, he ended up presiding over the party’s defeat.
Also Read: Karnataka polls: Shettar warns BJP that denying him ticket could impact 20-25 seats
This time around, one argument advanced by locals in Hubli is the anti-incumbency factor faced by the BJP. The party leadership in Delhi has probably calculated that by removing him from the electoral equation, the anti-incumbency can be blunted in the Hubli- Dharwad region. But then, these are speculations.
What then does Shettar bring to the table for the Congress? The Grand Old Party probably calculates that any gain in Lingayat votes is good for the party. And if Shettar plays his cards right, projecting himself as a Lingayat who was backstabbed by the BJP, it could earn him and his newly adopted party some valuable extra votes.