WITH the highest civilian awards to Karnataka leader S M Krishna and the late Samajwadi Party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav, the Narendra Modi government Wednesday scored several political points with its Padma list.
Krishna is a leader of the powerful Vokkaliga community in poll-bound Karnataka, while Mulayam remains one of the most respected names in the country among the OBCs, whom the BJP has been trying to woo. If the two were nominated for Padma Vibhushan, Tripura tribal doyen N C Debbarma gets a Padma Shri, just days ahead of voting in the state.
From the Northeast, a region high on the BJP’s priority list, Thounaojam Chaoba Singh also gets a Padma Shri.
S M KRISHNA
At 90, Krishna might have lost political credence in recent years, but the former Karnataka CM and ex-Union minister is considered the most prominent Vokkaliga leader after former prime minister and JD(S) leader H D Deve Gowda in the state.
If Deve Gowda is seen as a grass-roots leader of the community with his finger firmly on its pulse, Krishna was always seen as the urbane face with his foreign education, and is still widely regarded in Bengaluru as one of the chief architects of the development of the city.
After nearly five decades in the Congress, where he served in top positions such as CM, Minister for External Affairs and Governor of Maharashtra, Krishna joined the BJP in 2017. It was seen as an effort by the party to gain a foothold in south Karnataka and among the dominant Vokkaligas. The move never yielded any serious political returns for the BJP, but the honour for Krishna — who announced his retirement from active politics this month – is expected to go down well with his community.
The death of his son-in-law and Cafe Coffee Day founder V G Siddhartha in 2019 had come as a big blow to Krishna.
He said about his retirement: “I got to know of discussions about me not being seen much (publicly). We all should be aware of our age… at the age of 90, we cannot act as though we are in our 50s. Respecting that age factor, I’m gradually stepping aside from public life.”
While Krishna is in the BJP now, he is incidentally considered to be the benefactor of Karnataka Congress chief D K Shivakumar, who is in a tussle with colleague Siddaramaiah over the party’s chief minister face.
Mulayam Singh Yadav
The SP founder who died at the age of 82 in October last year was a follower of Ram Manohar Lohia and the architect of OBC politics in Uttar Pradesh, who was elected to the state Assembly eight times, served as an MP seven times, held the Defence portfolio under the United Front government, and was the CM of UP three times.
Mulayam was the only bulwark against the BJP’s temple politics in UP for a long time. It was during his first regime as CM in 1989 that police had opened fire on kar sevaks gathered in Ayodhya on the call of the VHP, RSS and BJP leaders. While Mulayam later expressed sadness and regret over the incident, he never stopped believing that the action was necessary to protect a religious place. The BJP never stopped attacking him as “Miya Mulayam” on that account.
But that rancour seems all but a thing of the past for the BJP, at least on the face of it. While the SP under his son Akhilesh put up the only challenge to the BJP in last year’s Assembly polls in UP, the BJP has been carefully projecting that it has nothing but respect for Mulayam. The Yogi Adityanath government announced full state honours for his cremation, and the BJP mentioned him among others in a condolence motion passed during its recent executive meeting in Lucknow.
N C DEBBARMA
The former Tripura revenue minister was the founder president of the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT), the tribal party that was a valuable ally for the BJP as it formed its first government in the state in 2018.
The Padma Shri to him comes at a time when the IPFT is slipping away from the BJP, and another tribal party, the TIPRA Motha, has emerged as the stronger contender for the community’s vote in Tripura.
Debbarma had been involved with Tripura’s tribal politics for five decades, and was behind more than one tribal outfit in the state, including the Tripura Upajati Juba Samiti, Tripura Hill People’s Party and Tripura Tribal National Council, apart from the IPFT.
Thounaojam Chaoba Singh
A former Congress leader, Singh won the Nambol Assembly seat five times and was the Deputy Chief Minister of Manipur from 1994 to 1995. The next year, he was elected to the Lok Sabha from the Inner Manipur parliamentary constituency and went on to head the Congress in the state.
After re-election to the Lok Sabha in 1998 and 1999 on Congress ticket, Singh joined the BJP prior to the 2004 general elections. After he won, he was inducted as Union Minister of State, Culture, Youth Affairs and Sports, in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government. He also became the Manipur BJP president and held the post till 2006.
After he had floated his own party, Manipur People’s Party (MPP), he returned to the BJP and, in 2012, was again named the state party president.
As the Manipur BJP president till 2016, he was considered one of the front-runners to be CM when the party won the 2017 Manipur Assembly elections. However, he lost out to N Biren Singh.