The RSS has a rule which it has strictly implemented on its affiliates like the BJP: nobody over the age of 75 should hold any executive position. It is by citing this rule that L K Advani was prevented from being nominated as the Prime Ministerial candidate in 2014 as Modi made the cut. Now again it is because of this ‘rule’ that chief minister B S Yediyurappa has been shown the way out in Karnataka. Yeddy as he is popularly known was past 75 when he became chief minister this time round in 2019. He had been chief minister earlier too and once had left the BJP to form his own party Karnataka Janata Paksha.
So why was he made chief minister in 2019? That was because the party was not strong enough in Karnataka and BJP was keen to have a chief minister who would not be upstaged. The BJP had come to office after ousting the Janata Dal- Congress government in a confidence vote that was bitterly contested in the Vidhan Sabha and beamed across TV channels. It was felt that a popular leader could carry the party along and this is something that BJP wanted. Politics in Karnataka revolves around a tussle between the Lingayats and Vokaligas. The Lingayats who control a string of mutts across Karnataka by and large support the BJP and Lingayat support is crucial to the saffron party in power. Yediyurappa is a Lingayat and to rally the caste group’s support he was elevated as chief minister. Now the chief minister is past 78 years old. When he had left the BJP in 2011, the party had been weakened and was out of power soon. Yediyurappa left the party because of many substantial corruption charges against him.
Yediyurappa, of course knows the party’s policies so he was prepared for the exit this time. But he exited with a lot of tears. He quit as he completed two years in office and quoted the ‘75 year’ age rule in BJP as he exited after announcing his decision to resign in Vidhan Sabha amidst tears. Apparently he made an attempt to rally forces in his favor with the Lingayat seers rallying in his support and appealing to the BJP bosses not to not replace him. By rallying forces behind him successfully, Yediyurappa was able to demonstrate that the BJP supporting Lingayats were behind him. This enabled him to choose his successor, although this was not something that was expressed openly. The new choice is Basavaraj Bommai, a low profile leader who is the son of former Janata Dal boss S R Bommai. Basavaraj is a follower of Yediyurappa and was formerly in the Janata Dal. But it is common knowledge in Karnataka that the chief minister is not very powerful and owes his strength due to the last chief minister. Analysts expect that Basavaraj, an engineer by education, will be forced to run his government on the suggestions of Yediyurappa. Thus it will be a case of Yediyurappa by the back door. Yediyurappa’s first choice would have been his son B S Vijayendra but since that was known by the BJP top leadership this could be countered. Hence Yediyurappa nominated the unexpected candidate Basavaraj Bommai. Interestingly last fortnight Yediyurappa’s close associate Shobha Karandlaje was made minister of state in the Centre as a way to placate Yediyurappa. The next election in the state is in 2023, so till that time it will be Yeddy raj in Karnataka.
Interestingly many analysts had predicted that the BJP bosses would nominate a non Lingayat chief minister in the state so as to broaden its party support base. But Yediyurappa’s support base is so strong that the party bosses did not want to take such a risk. “Making a non Lingayat chief minister had the risk of losing Lingayat support and this is something that the party could not gamble with. It is felt that the party bosses would try to reduce the Yeddy influence by offering him the position of Governor in some other state. But this is unlikely because Yediyurappa has himself denied that he would like to move away to a sinecure in Raj Bhavan. When asked about the possibility of becoming a Governor, Yediyurappa recalled that in his life time Atal Bihari Vajpayee had offered him a central ministry but he refused the offer. This is an indication that Yediyurappa will remain in the state and ostensibly work for strengthening the party in the state. It will be interesting to follow Karnataka politics henceforth.