Bengaluru: It seems it is the end of the road for Karnataka Chief Minister B. S. Yediyurappa (BSY) who is completing two years in office and is set to quit the office for a new incumbent. The High Command of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has prevailed upon him to vacate the post for a younger leader who could ensure the victory for the party in Assembly Election due in April 2023.
The party bigwigs are currently holding the cards close to the chest and no hint has been provided as to who would be the successor. It is after six months of persuasion that BSY has come round to the point that he should make a graceful exit. Straws were in the wind ever since his close confidante Shobha Krandlaje was inducted into the Union Cabinet a fortnight ago. It was a kind of a sop to BSY and a measure to assuage his ruffled feelings.
Yediyurappa’s age (he has crossed 78 years) has weighed heavily with the High Command to move him out of the office as the party wanted to stick to the 75 years of age for members to hold an executive post. While his exit is certain, it is not clear if he would be appointed the Governor of some State. As for himself, he is unlikely to be persuaded to take up the post of a Governor as he would like to stay close to the power centre in Bengaluru to ensure a better future for his sons, B.S. Vijeyendra, one of the vice presidents of the State unit of the Party and B.S. Raghavendra, who is Member of Lok Sabha from Shivamogga (earlier Shimoga), the home of the powerful ruling family of Karnataka.
Yediyurappa clung to the post for quite long and was unwilling to tolerate any talk of change of the guard in the State. He had made it plain to the High Command that his removal would cost the party dearly in the State as he was the tallest leader of the Lingayath community and had built the party from the scratch. However, his life’s ambition to complete a full term remains unfulfilled. He was on a shaky wicket when he began all the four terms and all of them ended abruptly.
Yediyurappa as Chief Minister of Karnataka
November 12, 2007 to November. 19, 2007 (Resigned after Janata Dal Secular quit the coalition with the BJP.
May 30, 2008 to July 31, 2011 (Resigned after he was chargesheeted in some cases and BJP High Command asked him to resign.)
May 17, 2018 to May 2019 (Only for two and half days. Resigned before facing the Assembly as it dawned upon him that he would not be able to cobble a majority in the House)
July 26, 2019 (Likely to quit within the next few days)).
Among the aspirants for the top post are C. T. Ravi, one of the national general secretaries of the BJP; Kageri Visveshwar, Speaker of the Assembly; B. L. Santosh, currently Organising Secretary at the centre; Pralhad Joshi, Minister for Parliamentary Affair in the Union Cabinet; Dr. Ashwathnarayan, Minister for IT and Higher Education; R. Ashok, Minister for Revenue; Murugesh Nirani, Minister for Mines and Geology; and, Basanagouda Patil Yatnal, leading dissident and known opponent of Yediyurappa.
Kageri, Pralhad and Santosh come from the Brahmin community which does not represent more than three percent of the State population. In the caste calculus of the State, Brahmins do not figure prominently. They may not be vote-catchers, but would have the backing of the RSS.
Ravi comes from the Vokkaliga community which has numerical dominance in the southern districts of Karnataka. Murugesh Nirani is sugar baron owning several sugar mills and a cement factory, all located in Bagalkot and surrounding areas. He comes from Panchamsali sect of the Lingayath community. The sect leaders have been demanding separate quota in State jobs for the members of the sect. He is considered close to Union Home Minister Amit Shah. Ashwathnarayan is a medical doctor by training and still does not have much clout within the party. R. Ashok has been a minister under all BJP Governments but has never been in the race for the top post. Yatnal is a known motormouth who spits fire and brimstone and known for his communally divisive statements and has been the leading tormentor of Yediyurappa. He too comes from Panchamsali sect of the Lingayaths.
The seers of the Lingayath community have told the BJP in no uncertain terms that any replacement of Yediyurappa will not be acceptable to them. Though the casteist interference has drawn flak from several quarters, it appears dislodging Yediyurappa will cause resentment within the community, which may gain ferocity against the party if the new incumbent is not chosen from the Lingayaths who rule the roost in the State’s bureaucracy, media, academia, cooperatives and several other sectors that provide the underpinnings to the caste power structure.
For the present, it seems the BJP has tackled the first hurdle in the obstacle race with great finesse by persuading Yediyurappa to vacate the seat for a younger face. The major question it faces is how to maintain balance among competing caste lobbies. It also remains to be seen if the person stepping into Yediyurappa’s shoes would command the confidence of those who defected from the Congress in July 2019 and entered the Assembly by winning byelections in December that year. Loyalists are sure to raise a storm if they are again offered the cozy berths in the cabinet at the cost of old loyalists.
M A Siraj is Bengaluru based seasoned writer and journalist.