Inclusion in the Centre, the mantle of being a farmers' leader, and renewed importance in Karnataka politics — this may well be a political rebirth of sorts for Shobha Karandlaje.
Even Kannada media seemed to have no inkling of, or chose to underplay, the possibility of Shobha Karandlaje making it to the PM’s Council of Ministers, up until the evening before the Union cabinet rehaul.
Karandlaje is a firebrand leader from what is often called the ‘saffron bastion’ of Karnataka — its coast.
Until the 2018 state assembly election in Karnataka, Karandlaje wielded ‘much envied’ power in the party's state unit. She was said to be the power centre calling the shots when her political mentor, B S Yediyurappa, held the chair of the chief minister in a previous tenure.
She was the only woman minister in Yediyurappa’s cabinet at the time. Even when Yediyurappa chose to form his own party, she followed him in it, leaving the BJP in which she had risen organically from her days as an RSS karyakarta.
Not known to mince her words on matters pertaining to Hindutva, she has often found herself in the midst of controversies, but has rarely been apologetic about her stance.
Although her tenure as a Member of Parliament hasn’t earned her many accolades, her earlier stints in the state government — where she held the power and the rural development portfolios — drew praise for her.
Hailing from Puttur in coastal Karnataka, Karandlaje started her political career in the early 1990s.
She then went on to head the Udupi BJP Mahila morcha in 1997. Her association with Yediyurappa began with her participation in the Lingayat strongman's Sankalpa Yatra in 1999. Yediyurappa would go on to mentor her as a grassroots-level, vocal leader.
Since then, and till the state 2018 elections, Karandlaje’s loyalties with her mentor earned her the ire of non-Yediyurappa political ‘camps’.
While political observers saw her as the natural heir to the ‘raitha nayaka’ (farmer leader), as Yediyurappa is known, recent changes in the power equations and endless talks of a change of chief minister in Karnataka, had pushed her role out of headlines and attention.
The news of her inclusion in the Union council of ministers came as a surprise to many, especially with the portfolio that has been handed to her— agriculture.
Although the new role comes at a price — of shifting loyalties, of reorienting oneself towards the centre — she still has inherited the goodwill of her mentor. This also cements her image as a foot-soldier who has been vocal about the farmers' causes.
Karandlaje is not new to the issues or the politics that the agriculture portfolio brings with itself, having been part of various farmer and environmental movements in the past.
She was at the forefront of the protests against the construction of a dam across the Kumaradhara river, and in the 'Save Western Ghats' agitation. She also has to her credit the work done in her home districts while she held the Rural Development and Panchayati Raj portfolios.
Cut to 2014, when she was asked to contest the Lok Sabha elections. This was said to be an attempt to curb the power she was thought to wield in the cabinet. Nonetheless, Karandlaje won with a margin of around 1.8 lakh votes.
Her second innings as the MP from Udupi Chikamagaluru also saw the increasing active involvement of Yediyurappa's family in Karnataka's state politics and her distance from the same.
And that is what makes her inclusion in the Union council so important and extraordinary. This resurgence of sorts is being accorded to Karandlaje, repositioning her loyalties to the Sangh.
Today, Karandlaje is clear about shedding symbols of past identifications. She deleted all of her previous tweets soon after she was sworn in as a Minister of State.
While one can point to her imperfect Hindi as an impediment, one has to give it to her for her strong communication skills, which she never fails to display.
Unlike many others, Karandlaje is never the one to shy away from questions or controversies and is known to take on the media, even with the ‘Kannadiga’ Hindi that she speaks.
At the end of the day, however you look at it, the green shawl, an unmistakable symbol of affinity with farmers, that had graced Yediyurappa‘s shoulders for decades and represents him in the minds of the Kannadiga voters, has silently flown over to Karandlaje.
And as if conceding to this sentiment, the septuagenarian stalwart too lauded Karandlaje. “Shobha is a people’s leader and people always gathered to hear her speak wherever she went. Now as the cabinet minister, she will travel across the state and address farmer’s concerns,” he added, as reported.
On community lines, she represents the second most powerful vote bank of Karnataka, the Vokkaligas. In that context, her elevation and projection as a powerful leader from the community becomes even more important— other parties in state too are trying to garner support from the community.
Inclusion in the Centre, the mantle of being a farmers' leader, and a renewed importance in Karnataka politics — this may well be a political rebirth of sorts for Shobha Karandlaje.
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