Chaos, infighting, bid for balance — BJP’s big Yediyurappa dilemma in Karnataka

B.S. Yediyurappa, the Lingayat strongman and former Karnataka CM, appears to be among the BJP’s biggest strengths — and its biggest weaknesses — as the state heads for polls.

Bengaluru/New Delhi March 18 dmanewsdesk: Former Karnataka chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa, easily the tallest leader of the powerful Lingayat community and the architect of the BJP’s hold in the state, has emerged as a dilemma for the party. 

While he is seen as the key to the state’s 17 per cent Lingayat vote, a few of the problems currently plaguing the BJP’s Karnataka unit also seem to centre on him.

The chaos and discord in the state unit are clear, with the subjects of dissonance including Yediyurappa’s son B.Y. Vijayendra, the party’s state vice-president.

Yediyurappa’s push to project Vijayendra as his successor — and the heartburn it caused among some leaders in the state — was believed to be one of the reasons for his removal as CM in July 2021.

While the latter has become a popular leader, especially among the youth, he is a subject of some consternation among a section of local BJP leaders who say he ran a parallel government during his father’s tenure as CM.

Last year, Yediyurappa announced that he was giving up his constituency Shikaripura for Vijayendra.

Adding to this is the continued resentment in some sections over what is seen as the disproportionate favour shown by the former CM to rebels from the Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular), who helped him return to power in 2019.

Speaking to ThePrint, BJP’s Karnataka vice-president Nirmal Kumar said that there “is no doubt that Yediyurappa is the most respected party leader with huge influence over the masses, as is reflected in the PM’s speeches”.

“The party is fighting to win the election under the guidance of Yediyurappa and the CM,” he added.

Battle for tickets
Earlier this week, Yediyurappa abruptly left a scheduled rally in Chikmagalur district after a section of BJP workers demanded that the incumbent legislator, M.P. Kumaraswamy, not be given a ticket in the coming elections.

Meanwhile, BJP national general secretary C.T. Ravi chided the protesters. “Is there no respect for the party? (You) are trying to insult the party,” Ravi said.

But, within the week, Ravi unleashed what appeared to be a potshot at Yediyurappa, even though he denies it was that.

Ravi, who handles Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu, said Tuesday, “Vijayendra is not an automatic choice to contest the Shikaripura seat vacated by Yediyurappa after he opted out of the poll race.”

He said, “…The decision on a candidate will not be taken in anyone’s kitchen. Nobody will get the ticket because they are somebody’s son.”

The decision, he added, will be based on the winnability of a candidate.

Ravi later clarified that his views were not directed at Vijayendra, and Yediyurappa tried to play it down as well, saying, “Ravi is right, whether it’s Vijayendra or any other MLA, it is the board that will decide on ticket distribution.”

However, Vijayendra, who is touring the Koppal district, hit out the next day. “When enemies grow, it shows that we are growing. C.T. Ravi is a senior leader and knows that B.S. Yediyurappa is more senior to him and helped build the party in Karnataka… Everybody knows where the decision will be made.

“I am not losing sleep over the election. The party has given me work and I will abide by the decision of party seniors,” he said Wednesday,

Then there are the Congress-JD(S) rebels, who were given tickets to contest in the 2019 bypolls and the majority of whom were accommodated in the state government, at the expense of party leaders, at Yediyurappa’s instance.

Now, Ramesh Jarkiholi, a former minister and one of the rebel MLAs who switched to the BJP in 2019 to bring it back to power, has said that he will only contest for the BJP if the party gives a ticket to his friend Mahesh Kumathalli, a former Congress rebel.

At least 6 BJP legislators met Union minister and Karnataka incharge, Dharmendra Pradhan, last Sunday to raise concerns on Jarkiholi’s alleged interference in all matters in Belagavi district, which covers 18 seats

Asked about the Ravi-Vijayendra episode, state BJP spokesperson Ganesh Karnik said Ravi had clarified his statement was not aimed at Yediyurappa. “Everybody in the party is aware how tickets are distributed in the party… it’s a well-defined structure,” he said.

What ails state unit
The importance accorded by the BJP central leadership to Yediyurappa was made clear last month during visits to the state by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah.

However, earlier this month, incumbent Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai, also a Lingayat, was appointed as the chief of the campaign committee, a post Yediyurappa was said to be a contender for. Meanwhile, Yediyurappa was made a member of the panel.

Speaking to ThePrint, BJP leaders said the decision was aimed as an attempt to strike a balance between Yediyurappa and Bommai. The idea, they added, was to ensure that no one thinks that the BJP had dumped its chief minister.

Yediyurappa’s removal as CM in July 2021, after all, is something that appears to be still haunting the BJP.

The Congress has been using it in its Lingayat outreach, seeking to portray the decision as a sign of the BJP’s lack of respect for the leader.

A central BJP functionary said to ThePrint that “confusion, worry over Vijayendra’s growing clout” are some of the issues plaguing the party in Karnataka.

He said that while politicians may settle scores at the time of elections, “when the PM, home minister are appealing to the electorate to have faith in Modi-Yediyurappa leadership, it is obvious that the top leadership knows how crucial it is to keep Yediyurappa in good humour”.

He added that Lingayats were an assertive community.

The Lingayats were seen to be among the factors responsible for the BJP’s low score in 2013, during a short rebellion by Yediyurappa, when he formed another party.

Given the sway of the Lingayats, the leader added, any attack on Yediyurappa may be counterproductive at a time the Congress is trying to get a fraction of Lingayat vote. “If Lingayats lose hope of having a say in the power dynamics, they will not vote enthusiastically,” he said.

On Bommai’s appointment as campaign committee head, another central party functionary said “not appointing him as campaign committee chief would have sent out the message that the party dumped its CM”.

“When you are at war, you can’t replace your senapati (commander)… the cadres will lose morale and the battle. This was essential to keep the morale high.”

A BJP MP from the state said “a section (in the) party doesn’t want Yediyurappa’s influence to rise in decision-making…they are happy with Bommai who is a consensus-builder and not aggressive in decision-making like Yediyurappa”.

Moreover, the MP said, Vijayendra’s growing clout may be worrying those hoping for a bigger role in the party since Yediyurappa has resigned from active politics.

“They tolerate Yediyurappa because he is a mass leader but they don’t want Vijayendra to become a more powerful and assertive leader. C.T. Ravi draws his strength from a senior central leader who has been opposed to Yediyurappa from the initial days,” he said.

But, the leader added, “it is up to the party high command to gauge how counterproductive it will be to annoy Yediyurappa at the time of election”.

Source: The Print