Shobha Karandlaje, an MP from Malnad in Karnataka, was inducted into Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s new team on Wednesday, strengthening the BJP’s foothold in the region and also among the Vokkaliga community.
Mentored by Karnataka Chief Minister B. S. Yediyurappa, Karandlaje is known for her struggles and relentless work — be it in organising party activities or travelling the length and breadth of Karnataka — and even neighbouring states — to take the party’s footprint forward.
Karandlaje hails from a farming family in Puttur near Mangalore. She belongs to the politically influential Vokkaliga community in southern Karnataka.
“Political families support their family members — their daughter or wife or somebody else. I am from a small farmer family. Survival in politics is difficult. When there is an allegation I should face it myself, there is no family support… women are scared of allegations, scared of politics because of money and muscle power. That’s why many women are running away from politics because they cannot survive in Indian political system,” Karandlaje had told News18 in 2019, just before facing the Lok Sabha elections from Udupi-Chikmagalur constituency.
She was active in student politics right from her college days. An MA holder in social studies, Karandlaje took up a job in Mangalore even while trying to work hard with the BJP. Eventually, she quit her job to dabble full-time in politics. She was later appointed the president of BJP’s Mahila Morcha.
Karandlaje’s long-time association with Yediyurappa was the reason why she was considered a ‘close aide and confidante’ of the CM for long — which also raised eyebrows in certain political circles.
But she was such a trusted lieutenant of the chief minister that in 2008, when the BJP came to power on its own for the first time in the state, it was Karandlaje who was sent to oversee flood relief works. She was also at the time briefing media persons after every cabinet meeting.
Besides, before every local election, Karandlaje, 55, was vested with important responsibilities. To prove her loyalty further, she even broke ranks with the BJP in 2013 when Yediyurappa launched his own party. She, however, lost the assembly election on the ticket of Yediyurappa’s party and rejoined the BJP when BSY was re-accommodated barely a year later.
‘Seen Only As a Sangh Parivar Person’
Of late, however, Karandlaje has found herself to be sidelined due to Yediyurappa’s son, BY Vijayendra’s growing influence within the party. But this seems to have helped her get a place in the new cabinet.
“That itself may have been a reason for her to become a Union Minister now… that she is not seen as part of any particular faction or camp in the Karnataka BJP, whether pro-BSY or anti-BSY. She is only seen as a Sangh parivar person, so they may have decided to opt for her,” says a BJP insider, adding, the fact that Karandlaje doesn’t belong to a political family has perhaps added to her credentials.
She, however, also resists the tradition of governments allotting only ‘women-oriented’ portfolios. All the three times that she was a minister in the Karnataka cabinet, she has fought her way to get portfolios that were powerful and not traditionally ‘women’ roles.
The firebrand politician at the time had objected to the practice of relegating women to portfolios like women and child welfare.
“When they are forming the ministry, women always get women and child development, kannada and culture (and such portfolios). I argued that I can perform in other ministries too. You can give women and child development to a man also. I can perform in other departments better. That’s why I got rural development and energy department. Again and again, we have to prove it in cabinet and party meetings. Because we (women) are always a question mark. I worked hard to prove that I can perform in the department and in the party,” Karandlaje had told News18 in 2019.
‘I proved that I was the best minister in the cabinet’
It was during Karandlaje’s stint as the rural development minister that Karnataka ranked number 1 in the country in rural development and panchayat raj institutions.
As the first (and hitherto only) Power Minister that Karnataka had, she built a reputation of herself for improving the power situation vastly.
“People often say ‘because somebody is supporting her, that’s why she is in politics’. That’s why I worked hard to prove that I can be better than men. Better minister, better general secretary than men. I felt when I became general secretary of the party, many asked why I was given this responsibility. When I was given the Energy Department (Power), many raised eyebrows. I proved that I was the best minister in the cabinet. I have always felt that I should be an example for other women to become the best politician and best minister,” she had said.
“Even my parents don’t ask where you are, what time you are coming. I travel across the state and nobody questions me. It is easier for single women to work in politics,” she added.