Octogenarian and former Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa remains central to BJP and Karnataka politics. With assembly elections coming up this summer, can this tallest Lingayat leader determine the course and enable the BJP to retain the right to govern? BSY, as he is known, promises to make the battle exciting.
With Karnataka getting ready to elect a new government this summer, political activities intensified in the state which is among the first in Southern India where the Bharatiya Janata Party maintains a strong presence.
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The “Lotus” which began to bloom in the state five decades ago, has since gradually spread resulting in the party forming a government for the third time in 2019 with B S Yediyurappa as the Chief Minister for his fourth stint and later with incumbent Basvaraj Bommai as his successor.
It is well-established in the state political matrix that the two dominant communities- Lingayats and Vokkalingas – play a significant and decisive role in tilting the scales and vote a party (ies) to power. And by all available indications there appears little reason to question the calculation even as parties make efforts to assume reins of governance by spreading the net wide and garner votes from other communities.
Now, the BJP which has been running the government for the last four years is confronted with some tough choices. Former Chief Minister Yediuryappa remains a popular and acceptable leader across different sections of the society and by being a Lingayat, adds additional whip to the political cream. The community accounts for 17 per cent with influence across 100 of the 224-seats in the assembly.
Having turned an octogenarian recently, Yediyurappa declared an end to his innings as a legislator and made a farewell speech in the assembly. Yet, he promised to remain active in politics by contributing through campaigning for the party he nurtured during the past few decades.
There are enough indications that the former Chief Minister hopes he can, through the benign grace of the party leadership, have his son B Y Vijendra become a political heir in Karnataka. Attempts to secure his position as a legislator remained unfulfilled with the BJP leadership that frowns upon dynastic politics. Another son, B Y Raghvendra is a MP representing Shimoga in the current Lok Sabha.
Despite having forced him to step down as the Chief Minister mid-way under the implied 75-year rule, allegations of corruption and nepotism, the BJP central leadership realise Yediyurappa’s potential to swing the pendulum, either way.
Back in 2011, amid a litany of charges when Yediyurappa was asked to resign, the leader parted company and formed Karnataka Janata Paksha (KJP). Hailing from the Lingayat community, considered strong supporters of the BJP, the KJP could not win many seats but dented the BJP which lost a fourth of the 110 seats it won during 2008 polls, The 2013 result remains one of the poorest showing for the BJP in two decades then.
Indications of a more nuanced approach surfaced during February when Prime Minister Narendra Modi accorded special status to the octogenarian and trained spotlights on the former Chief Minister at a meeting in Shivamogga.
On his part, Yediyurappa is working up the lather for the party holding meetings to bolster the BJP. The moot question is would those sections that supported the tallest Lingayat leader remain steadfast knowing well that the octogenarian or his anointed heir would not head the government?
Two years ago, while effecting a change of leadership in the state government the BJP entrusted the Chief Ministership to Basvaraj Bommai, hoping a younger leader can travel beyond his Lingayat credentials. Contrary to calculations, Chief Minister Bommai could not make much headway either in governance or in altering the existing dynamics of state politics.
This led to some chatter that closer to elections, Bommai too may be replaced. Significantly, it was Yediyurappa who denied such a possibility. His prediction that the Chief Minister would complete his term remains on course.
Now a recent development threatens to cast a shadow in state politics. The state Lokayukta (ombudsman) caught the son of an influential BJP legislator red-handed for allegedly collecting a bribe. Later during searches, the anti-corruption watchdog officials claimed to have recovered a huge stash of cash from the residence. The legislator Madal Virupakshappa, whose son Prashant is in the eye of the storm smelt a conspiracy and is considered a confidant of Yediyurappa.
Now how this attempt to crackdown on alleged corrupt activities plays out is not clear. For the BJP and its leadership the message is that the party has a ‘no-nonsense’ attitude towards such nefarious activities be it within or outside.
The development comes close when the stage is being set for the assembly polls in which the Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular) hope to emerge as parties that can decide who forms the next government.
Infighting in political parties is not an unknown phenomenon and it prevails in Karnataka too. Among the opposition, the Congress faces a stiff contest in the form of competing interests of former Chief Minister Siddharamiah and state party chief D K Shivakumar. The JD (S) may not have such a problem with former Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy as the anointed heir to his father H D Deve Gowda, However, the challenge is to garner seats that could once again put the party in the driver’s seat.
—The author, KV Prasad, is a senior journalist and has earlier worked with The Hindu and The Tribune. Views expressed are personal.
Read his previous articles here
(Edited by : C H Unnikrishnan)
First Published: Mar 10, 2023 6:31 PM IST
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