Karnataka: Yeddyurappa is aging but irreplaceable

By M. A. Siraj

Bengaluru: Karnataka Chief Minister B. S. Yeddyurappa is proving an albatross around the neck for the BJP High Command. Seemingly indispensable for the party in the State, BSY is 77 and should retire from active politics, given the norm set by the High Command. But he is no ordinary mortal to be sounded the marching order. Having successfully mustered the numbers for the majority in the 224-member House, he sits pretty on the throne. The party and the High Command knows too well the risk of displacing or replacing him with any of the several ambitious and younger contenders for the top post in the State.

The cabinet expansion saw over a third of the cabinet berths going to the former Congress and JDS MLAs (who had rebelled against their parties) and enabled the BJP to form the Government on the basis of majority in a house whose strength had gone down by 17. But this has badly put off the old loyalists who were natural claimants to the posts and waited for years together for the reward. They are being promised lackluster chairmanships of boards and corporations which are anyway poor substitutes. Saddled with sulking loyalists and unfairly rewarded newcomers, the Yeddyurappa cabinet and Government are seen as the best model of expedient politics, enough to shock those who aspired to see ‘a Government with a difference’.

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It may be recalled that BSY consolidated his position in December last year with the BJP winning 12 of the 15 seats for which the by-elections were held on December 5. It was a defection by detour. In 2018 Assembly election, the BJP though won 104 seats and emerged as the largest party, it fell short of eight for a majority. Congress and the JDS with a combined strength of 117 hastily cobbled a coalition Government which only hopped from one crisis to another during its 14-month tenure before collapsing in the wake of BJP making a clean sweep in the State in May 2019 General Elections winning 25 of the 28 Lok Sabha seats from the State. Defections were engineered shortly thereafter by the BJP into the partners of the ruling coalition.

The teetering coalition was replaced by the BJP after it persuaded 17 of the ‘rebel’ MLAs from the Congress and the JDS to resign and seek the reentry into the House through by-elections, having assured them tickets and cabinet berths. By-elections were held for only 15 seats. The BJP nominated 14 of the ‘rebels’, one being denied the ticket and replaced by another party nominee. Among the winners were 11 who had rebelled against the parent Congress and JDS parties. New inductees included 10 of these rebels, with one left sulking on the margins.

Though BSY has secured his Government, the High Command has given him enough signals of him not being in the good books of Mr. Amit Shah. It took nearly eight months for the BSY to expand his cabinet, clearly two months after the by-elections. He was denied the appointment several times by the High Command and had to return from Delhi unheard. Age is catching up with him and if grapevine has to be believed, he is dependent upon his younger son B. Y. Vijayendra who happens to be one of the general secretaries of the State BJP. His first son B. Y. Raghevendra is Member of Lok Sabha representing Shimoga seat. In a party that shuns dynastic tendencies, these antecedents evoke both hostility and fear within the party rank and file. In order to scotch rumours, the High Command directed BSY to take three deputy CMs from three distinct caste groups, Lingayath, Vokkaliga and Scheduled Caste. BSY too indulges in adding an anti-minority touch to his style in order to be in good books of the High Command. He withdrew the Rs. 10 lakh compensation to the two Muslim victims of police firing in Mangalore until the probe into the incidents declared them innocent. His Government cancelled the official celebration of Tipu Jayanthi in the State on November 9. These are uncharacteristic of the Chief Minister who had meticulously avoided being seen as anti-any caste or community in the previous term (2008-2011).   

But this has neither assuaged the feelings of those who were denied the cabinet berth, nor pacified the other party aspirants for the top post. Yeddyurappa remains the tallest leader of the Lingayaths, the most powerful caste group within the State with substantial representation in bureaucracy, cooperatives, banking, educational institutions, religious mutts and overall politics. The BJP’s fulcrum of the votebank in the State rests mainly on the Lingayaths. BSY’s displacement will not be taken kindly by the community. Combination of these factors is stoking unrest among loyalists and the party.

But better late than never, BSY will have to vacate the seat. B. L. Santosh, a soft-spoken leader who has emerged from the RSS ranks is the hot favourite of the High Command for the top post. He is being tipped to replace BSY. He was appointed the national general secretary (organization) in January and is being tipped for the post. But there are enough indications that ouster of BSY will not be smooth. Last time when he was replaced by Mr. Sadananda Gowda (who was succeeded by Jagadish Shettar only a year later), he (BSY) split the party, formed Karnataka Janata Party and robbed the BJP of at least 8% votes in 2013 elections, leading to revival of Congress in the State. It is certain that the BJP will see unrest and suffer dents in the Lingayath votebank if he were to be removed as CM. BSY has taken care to project himself more pro-Lingayath than pro-Hindutva. At no occasion—both in the current and previous term as CM—he has issued any hurtful or hateful statements to annoy communities traditionally opposed to the BJP.

Meanwhile, the main Opposition party Congress is yet to dress up its dented image. Though former chief minister Siddramaiah had resigned (following party’s rout in by-elections) as the Congress Legislature Party President, he is yet to be replaced by anyone. Resignation was not accepted. He still calls shots within the organization and is keen to retain his position. Interestingly, many of his former loyalists who defected to the BJP have got the ministerial berths. They do not mince their words in showing reverence to him and calling him their mentor. This has led to a queer situation, where nearly half of the BJP ministers are seen as fifth columnists within the party.

Going for the BJP in Karnataka will be smooth till BSY is not disturbed. But going by his age and over-dependence on his sons, his removal is taken as a fait accompli. It is not certain how configuration may change if the High Command were to think of a change in Karnataka, the only large state in the South where it is in power.

The writer is a Bangalore-based journalist

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