Hindu nationalists take power in Indian IT state

Mon Nov 12, 2007 7:22am EST


BANGALORE, Nov 12 (Reuters) - India's opposition Hindu nationalists took power in a southern state on Monday for the first time, hoping it would boost the morale of its supporters ahead of a series of key provincial polls.

The swearing-in of the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) B.S. Yeddyurappa as chief minister of Karnataka, India's IT hub state, ended weeks of uncertainty and a brief spell of federal rule triggered by wrangling for power by BJP's coalition ally.

Yeddyurappa and four ministers took the oath of office at an open-air ceremony in the state capital Bangalore, amid fireworks and cheering by tens of thousands of supporters and senior BJP leaders from around the country.

Karnataka is considered a prize catch for BJP as the party has a negligible presence in other southern states. The party hopes to use Karnataka as a gateway to the south and gain a larger national footprint.

Karnataka becomes the ninth of India's 29 states where the BJP or its allies have come to power.

The party is seeking a third term in its western stronghold state of Gujarat in polls next month and 10 states are due to elect new assemblies next year amid continued speculation over the prospect of early national elections.

"The BJP's triumph in Karnataka will embolden it to expand its southern base," the Hindustan Times newspaper said in an editorial on Monday.

"This is bad news for the Congress, as a combination of the BJP and powerful regional parties make it that much harder for it to grow in the region," it said referring to the national ruling party.

MUSLIMS WORRIED

The BJP has struggled for direction and to build a strong leadership after its surprise defeat in national polls in 2004.

The party was supposed to come to power in Karnataka last month under an agreement with its regional ally, the Janata Dal (S), to rule the state for 20 months each.

But it ended up pulling out of the coalition after the Janata Dal (S) reneged on the pact and refused to hand over power, forcing New Delhi to impose federal rule.

Subsequently the two patched up, allowing the BJP to realise a long-cherished dream even though analysts say the arrangement is likely to prove a crown of thorns as the Janata Dal (S) is not known for its political consistency.

The BJP has been blamed for alienating India's majority Hindus against the minority Muslim community and Karnataka, although known to be largely peaceful, has had its share of sporadic religious conflict over the years.

Yeddyurappa, who is a member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a hardline Hindu organisation and the BJP's ideological parent, has denied any bias against Muslims and said his government would focus only on development.

But some Muslims in Karnataka said they still remained concerned.

"We are a bit worried," said Altaf, an autorickshaw driver in Bangalore's Muslim-dominated area of Shivajinagar who gave only one name. "I hope they don't create any problems for us."

(Writing by Y.P. Rajesh; Editing by Bill Tarrant)