In Karnataka elections, a Yeddyurappa win could return controversial woman friend to power

It is said that “behind every successful man, there is a woman”. Applying the same adage to politics, could it be said that ‘behind many a successful politician, there is a controversial woman?’

If the BJP wins the May 12 assembly election in Karnataka, its state president BS Yeddyurappa will surely be anointed as chief minister for a third term in his chequered political career.

Just as surely, Yeddyurappa’s detractors believe, his feisty “girlfriend” Shobha Karandlaje will follow him to the power elite – in whatever capacity Yeddyurappa chooses to ensure her proximity.

The last time Yeddyurappa led BJP to power in Karnataka, which was in 2008 when the party won an unprecedented 110 seats in a 225-member House, his cabinet had only one woman – Shobha Karandlaje.

For a first-time minister in charge of rural development and panchayat raj, she made a mark, not only with her articulation, but driving the bureaucracy to work according her plan.

More than her achievements as a minister, what led to anger and jealousy among Yeddyurappa’s colleagues was that she was a constant shadow behind the chief minister and allegedly “controlled” access to him. It is said that senior government officials quickly recognised the “power centre” in the BJP government and important files meant for the CMO were routed through her.

Though there was no official word about their relationship — he is a widower and she has an estranged husband — Shobha had direct access to Yeddyurappa’s office and even his private residence, which some of Yeddyurappa’s children resented, but could do nothing about. She would even accompany him to Delhi on official or party work and stay with him in the chief minister’s suite in Delhi’s Karnataka Bhavan.

The ‘power couple’ faced severe political backlash just a year later in November 2009 when mining baron and tourism minister Janardhana Reddy protested against Yeddyurappa’s attempt to clip his wings, and hijacked 44 party MLAs to Hyderabad, demanding Yeddyurappa’s resignation. Shobha had played a key role in changing some officials working in Ballari, who were hand-in-glove with Reddy in his illegal business of iron ore mining and transportation.

Reporting on fast-paced developments in Karnataka, the US consulate in Chennai had sent a cable to Washington, as revealed by Wikileaks subsequently, saying “the first BJP chief minister in south India faces the prospect of being unseated as his girlfriend has brought the government to the brink.”

It took almost two weeks for party bosses to resolve the crisis and as part of the compromise formula, and to save his chair, Yeddyurappa was left with no option but to drop Shobha from his cabinet and rescind the transfers that had been made.

After Yeddyurappa was forced to quit as chief minister in 2011 following the Lokayukta’s indictment in a land scam, he made sure that Shobha found a place in the Jagadish Shettar cabinet. But soon, when Yeddyurappa left BJP just before the 2013 assembly polls and formed Karnataka Janata Paksha (KJP) to ‘teach BJP a lesson’, Shobha was among those who followed him.

Yeddyurappa managed to wreck the BJP by garnering nearly 10 percent of the votes, but KJP’s dismal performance made him realise that he had no future outside the BJP. A chastised BJP also welcomed him back, and in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, his sail neatly harnessed the Modi winds, and the BJP won 17 seats.

Yeddyurappa and Shobha were among those who won by huge margins. In the last Modi cabinet expansion, it was widely believed that Shobha, being a Vokkaliga, would find a place to attract voters in the coming assembly elections, but it did not happen.

Things have come full circle with Yeddyurappa once again leading the BJP campaign and Shobha as general secretary of the party providing the vocal ballast, attacking political opponents.

Recently, when chief minister Siddaramaiah criticised Yeddyurappa for visiting Dalit houses for breakfast as a political stunt and asked BJP instead to marry into Dalit families and include Dalits in the party, it was Shobha who took the job of counter-attacking him.

She said Siddaramiah should know who his party vice-president Dinesh Gundu Rao had married before advising others. It immediately kicked up a storm as Gundu Rao, a Brahmin, is happily married to Tabu, a Muslim woman. Tabu took to Facebook to hit back strongly, saying she was a home-maker with two daughters and Shobha was “trespassing into our private lives….solely with the intention of creating communal disharmony in society.”

Shobha is keen on contesting the assembly elections from Yeshwanthpur in Bengaluru, which she had represented in 2004, but the party is unlikely to heed her request. Having nominated Yeddyurappa from Shikaripura and B Srimulu from Malkalmuru, the BJP has already lost two MPs and does not want to lose one more.

But make no mistake about it: If Yeddyurappa once again gets the red carpet to Vidhana Soudha, Shobha Karandlaje won’t be far behind.moneycontrol

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