Former Karnataka Chief Minister B S Yeddyurappa, while officially launching the Karnataka Janatha Party, made an emotional appeal at Haveri, north Karnataka to support him and his party. Vicky Nanjappa reports.
A sea of humanity descended on Haveri on Sunday to witness the Yeddyurappa show. The police estimated the crowd at a little over 1 lakh, but KJP workers claimed there were at least 2 lakh people who attended. Many more were to come, but could not make it since the roads were blocked because of the massive attendance.
The day commenced with a breakfast meeting of Yeddyurappa's loyalists. There were nearly 18 leaders, including ministers of the BJP. Eight of them stayed back and attended the programme, despite the BJP warning them not to associate with Yeddyurappa.
Most of them said that they could not care less for the warnings and added that they were in their positions because of Yeddyurappa, and hence they had to be there to support him.
"We are not worried about the consequences," they said.
Yeddyurappa's speech was the highlight of the event. He was emotional, but for once, did not cry. And at times he was angry, he spoke about the BJP.
He started off his address by stating the efforts he had put in to build the BJP.
"I put my sweat and blood into the party. What did I get at the end of it? Backstabbing. The party told me to step down as chief minister and said that they would make me the party president in 24 hours. At that time, I had the support of 75 members of Legislative Assembly. But I obeyed the high command."
"However they decided to cheat me. I was cleared by the high court in the illegal mining case put up by the Lokayukta, but despite that I was not given the respect by my own party," he said.
While comparing the speech that Yeddyurappa made on the day of his resignation last month, he was more aggressive on Sunday. He did not take names, but hit hard at the high command of the party. He was however very vocal about Chief Minister Jagadish Shettar.
Earlier, Yeddyurappa had said that he had no intention of pulling down the government. However, on Sunday, he repeatedly challenged the BJP to dissolve the house and face him in the elections. Yeddyurappa was calm and composed while he spoke, but he was interrupted by one of his followers who told him about Shettar's warning.
Shettar in Hubli had warned of stringent action against those leaders who were present at the KJP on Sunday. Yeddyurappa was angered by this and shouted on top of his voice, "I challenge you Jagadish Shettar to fight me in the elections. You needed the support of these very MLAs to become the chief minister. I trusted you. I pulled (former chief minister) Sadananda Gowda out and made you the CM with the support of my MLAs."
"I put a chocolate in your mouth and congratulated you. And what have you done today? You trust that high command of yours. If you have the guts, don't sit and issue statements. Dissolve the assembly and fight me on the field," Yeddyurappa warned.
The other highlight of his speech was the justification of him launching a regional party. "Many had asked me why I should launch a regional party. I told them and want everyone to tell them that it is the era of regional parties. National parties cannot survive without the help of a regional party. Look at how Tamil Nadu has benefitted because it is ruled by a regional party," he said.
"The government realises that it needs the support of those parties and hence gave a favourable ruling in the Cauvery issue. Karnataka suffered and we have a national party ruling us," he reasoned.
Yeddyurappa said that he would commence his state tour in the next four days and ensure that the KJP comes to power in Karnataka.
The overall mood at Haveri was festive. There was glamour in the form of actors from the Karnataka film industry Pooja Gandhi, Malashree and Shruthy. However, only Gandhi was on the dais and she too made a brief speech praising Yeddyurappa.
There was also a secular colour given to the rally. Muslim women were on stage to garland Yeddyurappa and there were Christian leaders such as Micheal Fernandes who spoke about how fair Yeddyurappa has been to all communities in Karnataka.
Scores of leaders took the mike and addressed the crowd. There were many leaders from the district Congress who joined the party. A cultural event was organised. However, it was a Yeddyurappa show all the way who, in turn, behaved like a headmaster.
He got up from his seat several times, interrupting the speakers. With a mike in his hand, he attempted to control the crowd and repeatedly warned them that he would leave without speaking if they did not behave themselves.
He tried reaching out to them while controlling them. "Please sit down, I know how difficult it is to sit down for long hours in such a crowd. You are farmers and I am the son of a farmer and I know the difficulties. Please behave yourself and if you do so, I will come personally to all your houses, touch your feet and thank you."
Such statements received huge applauses from the crowd, and Yeddyurappa proved once again why he was the number one crowd puller in Karnataka.
The million dollar question is how many seats Yeddyurappa would win. Judging by the crowd on Sunday, it appeared as though he would sweep the elections. However, crowds are not a testimony to an election result. According to sources, Yeddyurappa spent nearly Rs 8 crore for this rally which also included the expenditure on 1,100 buses, special trains and scores of taxis to ferry people to the venue.
Many would compare this rally with the one that was held by actor-turned-politician Chianjeevi in Andhra Pradesh. It had the crowds but never translated into votes. However, Chiranjeevi was new to politics, whereas Yeddyurappa has 40 years of experience and also scores of loyalists who are ready to join him.
If an analyst were to be asked about the political prospects of the KJP, then he would say they should win at least 20 seats in the elections which would mean Yeddyurappa will be the kingmaker.
The much-hyped rally has concluded and now the attention is back to hardcore politics in the state. There will not be much action for the next couple of days as the special session at Belgaum will commence on Monday.
The tug-of-war between the BJP and the KJP is expected to commence after that. It is to be seen how many more leaders the BJP will suspend. The BJP needs to tread carefully when it acts against leaders, as it runs the risk of becoming a minority government.
Yeddyurappa would wish that the BJP dissolves the House, while the BJP is hoping that Yeddyurappa pulls down the government so that they could place the blame on him.
Apart from talk regarding the launch of the KJP, there was also whispers about how this launch coincided with Congress president Sonia Gandhi's birthday. However, Yeddyurappa dismissed that by saying it was a mere coincidence and he decided to have the rally on a Sunday as it was a holiday and would be convenient for people to attend the rally in large numbers.