Is it a breather for the Karnataka CM?

Yeddiyurappa digs his heels and shrugs off rumours of a change in leadership.

Karnataka Chief Minister B. S. Yeddiyurappa on June 6 categorically ruled out any plans to quit his post. He said he was not resigning from until and unless the party high command asked him to do so.

The statement has come amid speculation that the high command wanted to replace him. His age and dynastic ambition have often been flagged as issues working against his continuance at the top post in the State. He is approaching 79 against the party’s rule of not allowing persons more than 75 with any administrative responsibility. Secondly, his son B. Y. Vijeyendra is one of the nine vice presidents of the party in the State and is alleged to be an alternative centre of power. The political air has been thick with rumours for the last several months of his impending exit from the seat in the wake of high command’s desire to replace him with a younger face. Though the State BJP legislature party has several dissidents, most of those harbouring ambition of grabbing the seat know that Yeddiyurappa is no pushover to be replaced easily.

The Sunday’s announcement will though silence many of his detractors momentarily, is not likely to put a lid over the dissident activity. Two senior cabinet colleagues of the CM, Home Minister Basavaraj Bommai and Revenue Minister R. Ashok, immediately rushed to defend the CM against barbs from the dissidents issuing a statement that Mr. Yediyurappa was busy working for the people during the pandemic.

Mr. Yediyurappa has been facing rough weather within the party for close to a year as those defecting from the Congress and the Janata Dal Secular have secured ministerial portfolios while the old time loyalists have been left high and dry even as the party is in power in the State. Prominent among those who are outspoken are Vijayapura city MLA Basanagouda Patil Yatnal and Hubli-Dharwad (west) MLA Arvind Bellad. Bellad is a four-time MLA and his father was five-time MLA. Despite the family sharing nine terms as MLA, they have never been considered for even ministership. But the ones making quiet noises include a battery of legislators. They include Party’s national general secretary C. T. Ravi, and Environment and Energy Minister C. P. Yogeshwar who is currently an MLC. Ravi recently made veiled criticism against the CM while Yogeshwar visited Delhi, purportedly to meet the high command and to demand the change in State leadership. Panchayati Raj minister Easwarappa too has been making scathing remarks on the functioning of the government. Yet another MLA, A. H. Vishwanath too has been critical about government but has surprisingly supported the CM in his bid to retain the post.

But Yatnal and Yogeshwar are not taken seriously. While the former is a motormouth and nurses a deep grouse against the CM, the latter has the reputation of a jumping jack and has been in all the three leading parties of the State at different times. But the charge of being old (and age-barred) does stick against the CM who has otherwise proved his administrative acumen in dealing with the Covid-19 situation in the State. His second tenure as CM has been qualitatively better and he has proved himself to be a leader to be reckoned with. He has a solid votebank of Lingayaths at his back. He exercises restraint while speaking and has been dignified with even those who are not in good books of the BJP. Of late, the State administration has shown dynamism in tackling and containing the pandemic and accelerating the pace of vaccinations in the State.

Yet the political circles refuse to take the statement on its face value. Some quarters within the BJP would see his statement as daring the high command to act against him and bear the consequences. But there are others who read into it signs of high command telling him to choose a successor and exit gracefully. Whatever may be the implications, it is certain that choice of a successor would be a ticklish one. Almost 70 MLAs have signed a letter expressing their unflinching loyalty to the CM. Which caste grouping would get the preference is the major question. Yediyurppa is supremely confident of himself being the only leader commanding complete loyalty of the Lingayaths, a community with stranglehold over bureaucracy, education and finance. For some time name of Pralhad Joshi came up as the possible successor. But he is a Brahmin, a minuscule caste i.e., only 3%. Yet another name among the probable is sugar baron Murugesh Nirani, an industrialist from Bagalkot, who is Minister for Mines and Geology. Home Minister Mr. Amit Shah during his two day visit to the State flew to Bagalkot to inaugurate a new plant belonging to him. It is taken as a signal to Nirani being a favourite of the Central dispensation.

Days ahead are loaded with several possibilities of change in leadership in Karnataka and there are as many imponderables. But it is certain that the BJP Government will run a full term till 2023, and change in leadership, if any, will not mar its stability till the end of the tenure.

M A Siraj is Bengaluru based seasoned journalist who writes for a variety of newspapers including The Hindu, and news portals.

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