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Karnataka Safe, For Now

Hegde plans to launch a party, but not too many may join him

Karnataka Safe, For Now

STARTING July 1, expelled Janata Dal leader Ramakrishna Hegde will go to the people. That's official. What's unofficial is that he plans to launch a 'nationalist, programme-based' political party. The launch is expected to be announced in August after he completes a month-long tour of Karnataka denouncing the "undemocratic ways of the party (read Janata Dal) that was founded to preserve democracy". A decision about 3,000 Dal workers hoped would be announced when they gathered in Bangalore on June 22 for the party office-bearers' conference convened by Hegde's followers.

"Let us face mid-term elections if they have to take place. This conference could be the opening of a new chapter in Karnataka politics," Hegde announced. "If the Janata Dal leaders who have threatened action against workers participating in this conference stick to their word, it will be the swansong of the party in Karnataka." But beyond that, Hegde added little to his now-familiar raving and ranting against the JD leadership and the party's functioning. The conference merely provided a cathartic opportunity for his supporters to call names to Prime Minister Deve Gowda, Union ministers and the Janata Dal President Laloo Prasad Yadav.

Though Hegde clarified that he did not intend to destabilise the J.H. Patel Government in Karnataka, the conference and statewide tour has clearly triggered uncertainty in the party. Says Hegde: "We'll protect the Karnataka Government as long as it does not attempt to commit suicide." In an apparent countermove, Chief Minister Patel has convened a rally in Davangere on July 1 to put up a show of unity. Says Patel: "The convention will give an opportunity to party leaders to stand unitedly before the people of the state."

Fortunately for Patel, no legislator or minister has raised a banner of revolt over Hegde's exclusion or attended the Hegde conference as they were not invited. Says a senior Hegde supporter: "We did not want to embarrass them by sending an invitation as they would be caught between the Government and their support for Hegde." Political observers, however, take a different view. They see it as Hegde's strategy to avoid exposing himself in case enough legislators and ministers do not come out openly in his favour.

Further developments will depend on the state party leadership's reaction to Hegde's conference and its intentions to execute the threat of disciplinary action against workers and office-bearers participating in the meet. With Patel giving up on a Gowda-Hegde patchup, and the latter making moves to counter Gowda and Laloo in their home states, the JD boat seems set for some turbulence.

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