BJP hardliner and Vijayapura MLA Basanagouda Patil Yatnal has become a source of acute embarrassment for the party, Government and Chief Minister B. S. Yeddyurappa by relentlessly firing salvos. Though the party issued a show cause notice on February 12, he shows no sign of silence. In the latest onslaught, he has alleged that CM’s son B. Y. Vijeyendra funded the candidates of Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and Congress in Bihar during the recently concluded Assembly elections in the State.
Panchamsalis in focus
Mr. Yatnal who had been expelled from the party twice earlier, has been targeting the CM for quite some time. Coming as he does from Panchamsali sect of Lingayath community, he has been demanding the inclusion of the sect within the OBC quota in the Central Government list. He has also accused the Yeddyurappa Government of neglecting the northern Karnataka in matters of allocation of funds for development. Hidden behind the two issues is latent demand for creation of a separate state of ‘Northern Karnataka’.
Though he is known to be a motormouth, he is not without support within the party. The Party High Command which too finds the idea of splitting the State resonating with its own ideology of weak states and strong Centre, has not showed much enthusiasm in curbing the voices on the issue. Secondly, with Mr. Yeddyurappa having crossed the official age bar within the party, the Party High Command is tacitly allowing such dissent to be aired.
Yatnal has proved a thorn in the flesh for the CM who has proved himself to be the tallest leader of the party in the State which fell short of majority during the April 2018 Assembly election. However, through engineering of defection, he proved his mettle by installing the BJP Government following collapse of the Congress-Janata Dal Secular coalition government in August 2019. Though the CM had to pay a heavy price by inducting nearly all the defectors into the cabinet, the fact that a BJP government is in the saddle in a major south Indian State is a substantial solace for the party ruling the Centre. Yeddyurappa is firm that Centre would allow him to run the government for the entire term (till the next elections in 2023). The High Command too is uncertain of the fallout if he is shunted out prior to end of the term. The BJP is wary of dropping any hint in this regard as it fears a backlash from the powerful Lingayath community.
Yatnal knows where to hit and where it hurts the party most. Knowing fully well that the party is wary of incurring the allegation of dynastic designs—something it reserves for barbs against the Congress—Yatnal has been accusing Yeddyurappa of promoting his sons. His elder son B. Y. Raghavendra is BJP MP from Shivamogga, while younger son B. Y. Vijeyendra is Vice President of the party in the State. He had earlier accused the latter of running a ‘parallel government’ in the State.
But is there substance in Yatnal’s allegation of Yeddyurappa funding Lalu Prasad Yadav’s RJD and the Congress in Bihar election? Yatnal has stated this in his 11-page reply to the show cause notice. The allegation makes some sense with some of Yatnal’s supporters maintaining that Vijeyendera did this in order that if Nitish-led alliance lost in Bihar, the High Command would think twice about unsettling Yeddyurappa in Karnataka. He has termed it the game of betrayal the CM and his family were planning.
Defence from ministers
Surprisingly, two ministers Umesh Katti (minister for Food and Civil Supplies) and Ramesh Jharkiholi (Minister for Major and Medium Irrigation) have defended Yatnal despite the damaging utterances. A fortnight ago Yatnal had charged the CM of inducting ‘blackmailers’ in the cabinet.
Yatnal was suspended from the party twice, in 2010 and 2015. First time he joined the Janata Dal Secular and re-entered the BJP three years later. Second time he was suspended for contesting for a Legislative Council seat as a rebel which he won against the official candidate.
Much of the brouhaha being witnessed within the party owes itself to large slice of cabinet berths going to defectors and long-time loyalists being deprived of the loaves and fishes of office due to them.
Meanwhile, the Congress led by strongman D. K. Shivakumar has been quietly working to reinforce its ranks with induction of leaders who had left its ranks in the last few years. Sharat Bachegowda, the MLA who fought and won as a rebel against the official candidate M. T. B. Nagaraj, has joined the Congress. His father Bachegowda is BJP MP from Chikballapur. It is also negotiating the return of Madhu Bangarappa, son of former CM late Bangarappa who is weighing the options of returning to the old party after a few years of stint in the JDS and the BJP.
M A Siraj is senior journalist based in Bengaluru. He writes for several publications in the country.