Discontent is brewing in the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Karnataka, but Chief Minister B. S. Yediyurappa is sitting pretty and can expect the storm to blow over without causing much damage to his position.
Earlier this week, BJP’s motormouth MLA Basanagouda Patil set the political cauldron astir by declaring that Yediyurappa’s tenure as CM will come to an end soon. It did throw a hint about the discontent within the ruling party, but opposition to Yediyurappa within the party does not seem to be crystallizing in any concrete replacement for him. Patil, who has been twice MP and a union minister earlier, is known for making controversial statements. But most of these just serve the purpose of venting the opinion of a section within the party rather than signaling any real change.
Yet it cannot be denied that good many politicians within the State’s ruling dispensation are feeling the heartburn over outsiders—the ones who defected and overturned the Congress-JDS coalition applecart in the State—taking away the plum positions within the Government. The fact is that however the BJP or its ideological mentors in RSS may detest the current leadership they cannot find a substitute for Yediyurappa.
Yediyurappa is currently the tallest of the leaders of the Lingayath community and is also the one who can ensure the community’s solid support for the BJP. The State politics is a curious mix of interests of caste as well as the party. Any effort to destabilize Yediyurappa is all likely to boomerang on the party in the State. No wonder then why the central dispensation of the Party is averse to replace him despite the stated policy of pushing out the 75-plus leaders. While the worthies like Advani and Joshi were shown the door, Yediyurappa is all likely to be in the saddle till he turns 81.
Patil is seen as a pointsman of the RSS within the State BJP and enjoys the support of Mr. B. L. Santosh, the Organising Secretary of the BJP at the Central level. Such statements are therefore interpreted as an attempt to feel the political pulse and mood within the party and to keep the man at the helms on tenterhooks. However, the very fact that no one is still capable of replacing Yediyurappa at this stage, or even before 2023 Assembly elections, is too well known even within the party.
In normal circumstances, such statements should have evoked harsh reaction or disciplinary action or at least reprimand from the party bigwigs. But there was nothing of that sort in evidence which amply manifests that these kinds of barbs are not without the blessings from some of the party bigwigs who would like a younger face to lead the party before the 2023 Assembly elections. Six months ago, the party faced similar onslaught from Umesh Katti, an eight-time MLA from Hukkeri in Belgaum district. Katti had minced no words in expressing his desire to be the Chief Minister. Yet he was let off without any action.
The continuance of Yediyurappa poses a dilemma to the BJP. A man of 81 holding the reins of the State in 2023 does not augur well for the party going to the hustings. Yet it cannot do without him either. He has built the party from the grassroots. He was eased out of the office of the chief ministership in 2011 after a three-year reign following cases of corruption. In 2013 he floated his own party Karnataka Janata Party and made a dent into the party’s vote bank leading to the Congress’ return to the power for five years.
Dissidents are also flagging the issue of someone from North Karnataka taking up the mantle of leadership. Yediyurappa comes from Shimoga (now Shivamogga), a district in Old Mysore State in southern parts of the State. This however has some traction as preponderant majority of the Lingayaths inhabit the northern districts and majority of the BJP MLAs come from this region. However, such is the vice like grip of Yediyurappa over the community that north-south narrative gets dwarfed when it comes to community’s hold over the levers of power. It is to be seen how long Chief Minister Yediyurappa defies and dodges the urges of the advancing age and plays the community card to hold on to the state’s reins.
M A Siraj is a veteran journalist and writer based in Bengaluru