Yediyurappa out, but still crucial for BJP in Karnataka

Posted by Daily Pioneer on July 28th, 2021

Yediyurappa out, but still crucial for BJP in Karnataka

If the BJP high command handles him well, BSY, being a mass leader, could still mobilise the Lingayat vote for the party

July 26 happened to be the second anniversary of Chief Minister Yediyurappa’s rule in Karnataka. However, it turned out to be an occasion for an emotional farewell speech after he announced his resignation. Though BSY, as he is known in the State, resisted pressures, the high command had decided that it was time for a younger leader to take over.

Yediyurappa is now 78 and well over the party’s prescribed age limit of 75 years to hold public office. He will not lead the party in the next assembly polls in 2023, as he would be over 80 by then. Karnataka is the southern gateway for the BJP. It has become the third pillar along with Congress and JD (Secular) and Yediyurappa had a big role in that.

Unfortunately, though he came to power four times, he has not completed a single term. BSY quit reluctantly as the high command had worked out his exit plans with minimum damage to the party.

Incidentally, the RSS, too, wanted a younger leader to take over. Karnataka has produced many important RSS leaders -from RSS chief, the late K. S. Sudarshan, HV Seshadri to present-day leaders like Dattareya Hosbole, B.L. Santosh, and C.R. Mukund.

Yediyurappa has been an asset as well as a liability to the party. BSY was a shrewd manipulator who knew how to snatch power from the opponents, be it the Janata Dal coalition or Congress. He was adept at using age-old tricks of defection and lure of money. Even in the 2017 polls, the BJP did not get a simple majority. To keep BJP out, the Congress and the JD(S) formed a government with the JD(S) leader H.D. Kumaraswamy as Chief Minister. Yediyurappa pulled down this government in 2019 and became the chief minister for the fourth time.

Why is Yediyurappa important for the BJP? First of all, there is no Lingayat leader to match him in the state, either in Congress or the JD(S). The BJP also did not develop the second rung of leadership.

Secondly, crucial caste politics favour him. Lingayats are the State’s single-most significant community, (17 percent). Of the 500 mutts in the state, most are headed by Lingayats, followed by Vokkaliga mutts. The community can tilt the balance in as many as 90-100 of the State’s 224 assembly constituencies. The seers, who received support financially and otherwise from the chief minister, openly supported BSY.

The Lingayats traditionally supported the Congress but moved away in the seventies only to return briefly. But they withdrew their support after Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi abruptly sacked popular Lingayat chief minister Veerendra Patil. In the 1994 assembly elections, the community voted against Congress. This was the time when BSY emerged as the face of the Lingayats. Barring 2013, the BJP always had more than 30 Liingayat MLAs in the House - 32 in 2004, 39 in 2008, and 38 in 2018.

Yediyurappa has risen from the RSS ranks and been a seven-term MLA between 1983 and 2013. He joined the RSS when he was barely 15 and cut his political teeth in the Jana Sangh. A mass leader who installed the first BJP government in South India in 2008, BSY continues to have his own place in the State, despite the corruption charges, nepotism, and voices of dissent.

His meteoric rise in Karnataka was checked in the wake of a land scam that cost him the chief minister’s job. He walked out of the BJP in 2012 to float his outfit, the Karnataka Janta Paksha (KJP), which dealt a severe blow to the BJP in the 2013 assembly elections.

The return of Yediyurappa consolidated the Lingayat vote base again in the 2014 general elections. While dealing with him, the BJP leadership had to keep this in mind. For the fourth time, he took over as the chief minister in July 2019 after engineering defections of 18 MLAs from Congress and the Janata Dal (S). By then he had already crossed 76 years and like before, was facing corruption and nepotism charges from his party detractors.

With the chief minister drumming up support from the mighty Lingayat mutts, the BJP cannot ignore BSY because holding Karnataka is critical for the party before the 2023 Assembly polls or the 2024 General elections.

BSY’s innings may be over but if the BJP high command handles him well, being a mass leader, he could still mobilize the Lingayat votes. His successor has a tough job ahead, taking everyone along in a state where factionalism always prevailed.

(The writer is a senior journalist. The views expressed are personal.)

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