View: Yediyurappa’s exit is a calculated risk by saffron party’s central leadership


Karnataka chief minister BS Yediyurappa, who resigned on Monday, is the only mass leader BJP had in the state, and in the entire south. The way seers of the powerful Shaivite Lingayat mutts rallied around him in recent days, urging the party high command to let him continue, showed his hold on the community. Lingayats, who are 17% of the state’s population, are the second-largest community – Dalits are around 23% – and have been the mainstay of BJP. They affect electoral outcomes in as many as 100 out of 224 assembly seats in the state.

The resignation has raised two interesting questions. First, why did the BJP high command send Yediyurappa packing, knowing it was taking a calculated risk. BJP could have continued with him till the next state elections due in April-May 2023. He could have been eased out then.

And second, why did BSY, who has followers in the party and an independent following outside, agree to resign? He has after all held out in the past, and even floated a regional outfit of his own. If nothing else, he is in a position to inflict damage on BJP.

The short answer to the first question is that BSY’s exit is part of BJP central leadership’s determined plan to put in place new faces and teams at every level. The short answer to the second question is that BSY may not have the fire in him anymore to mount a challenge.

Let’s elaborate.

BJP’s leadership has been keen to replace Yediyurappa, as well as leaders in other states who have an independent following and stature, and are carryovers of the Atal-Advani era. The current leadership would now like to put its own team in place at the Centre and in states. If there was a political message coming out of the recent Cabinet reshuffle in Delhi, that was it.

It’s also true that if there was to be a change in Karnataka, this was the moment to strike. Elections are still one year and nine months away. The BJP brass must have also calculated that despite Yediyurappa’s exit, the Lingayat community may largely stick by BJP, particularly if he exits willingly, without revolting. Lingayats are with BJP as much for the party as for BSY. That is why the party brass has for many months been trying to “persuade” Yediyurappa to resign.

BJP has relied on the support of Lingayats, OBCs, Dalits, and a section of the Vokkaligas and it can be expected now to push harder to win over the JD(S)’s Vokkaliga base in the southern part of the state. Given the challenges it will now face, it can also be expected to sharpen its Hindutva rhetoric to win back the disaffected.

As for Yediyurappa, though 78, he has built the party in Karnataka. It was he who mounted Operation Lotus, toppled the Janata Dal(S)-Congress government, and installed the BJP ministry in Bengaluru in July 2019.

When he formed the government two years ago, there was apparently an understanding that he would make way for someone else after one year. That one year turned to two. In the last few months, there has been mounting criticism of him within the party. Many have complained of the interference in government by his son BY Vijayendra, who used to be called the “super CM”.

Yediyurappa seems to have decided to cut his losses. He made a last ditch effort to ward off the axe, but may have agreed to a compromise formula which will unfold in the coming days. He would have tried for a weighty role for his son.

Will Yediyurappa become another Veerendra Patil? Patil was the Congress CM who Rajiv Gandhi had sacked unceremoniously in 1990. He had won the biggest ever victory for the Congress in 1989. Patil too was a Lingayat heavyweight. It was then that Lingayats started to shift away from Congress and gravitate towards BJP. After his removal, Congress faced its most humiliating defeat in 1994.

But the Lingayat strongman may no longer have the appetite to hit the road again, forge a new political entity. He has a legal sword hanging over his head. In April this year, the Karnataka HC had given its go ahead to inquire into his role in Operation Lotus.

Also note, Yediyurappa’s resignation can create a window of opportunity for Congress. Except Congress does not have a powerful Lingayat face today, and it is a house divided.

What is the larger message of Yediyurappa’s exit, even as it brings to an end a phase in Karnataka politics?

Does it ring warning bells for Madhya Pradesh CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan, who is now the only strong, independent, “old world” BJP leader who remains in the saddle at the state level?

It certainly signals the central leadership’s determination to forge ahead with putting in place new teams. And the leadership is ready to court risks to achieve this goal.

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