Finally, Karnataka is seeing a leadership change. We know that we will have a new chief minster in Karnataka but we are still not sure as to who that chief minister will be! We are thus mid-way through a transition. There is a certainty about a departure but an uncertainty about the new arrival.
As Yediyurappa completes his fourth stint as the chief minister, several issues come to the fore. All his four terms have had their ups and downs. He has not been able to complete his full term even on one of these occasions. His fourth stint has been exceptionally eventful. He became chief minister on account of a rebellion by a select group of Congress and JD(S) MLA’s resulting in the collapse of the Kumaraswamy-led government. He assumed office at an age which was well beyond the prescribed limit that had been set by the party for holding a public office. He had to do a tight balancing act between the old time loyalists in the party and the newly minted recruits.
Unlike in the past, he did not seem to have his way in running the government. He had a set of deputy chief ministers who were not necessarily his choice. He assigned portfolios based on the directions of the party leadership. At different stages, he had to concede to implementing the directions of the central leadership of the party, often running counter to his own personal wishes. This term saw him lead without the passion and zeal that was his trademark in the past. It seemed as if the CM knew that it was a matter of time that he would need to relinquish office. As days progressed, the writing was clearly visible on the political wall.
Yet, this transition has its unique features, something that the BJP has not been used to witnessing. This was a transition that was clearly directed by the central leadership of the party but it had a unique Karnataka flavour.
Karnataka is the only bastion for the BJP south of the Vindhyas. Yediyurappa had been eased out of the CM post in the past and that had led to a split in the party in 2012. One must concede that 2012 is not 2021. Yediyurappa was a key player behind the BJP’s growth in Karnataka. He is also an influential leader from the Lingayat community. All these factors have accounted for the need to calibrate this transition in a way that the party suffered no collateral damage. It has thus involved painstakingly long strategising and agonisingly long negotiations. One is not sure whether the last steps before the final leadership transition have as yet been crossed. The next few days would be an indicator of the same.
Yediyurappa’s comments over the last few days and his ‘farewell speech’ at the function to mark two years of his government, provided enough indicators of his stance. He made it clear that he would step down on the command of the central leadership. He was not in favour of taking up any ceremonial post outside the state. He committed himself to serving the party and ensuring its victory in the next elections. He re-asserted his faith in the central leadership of the party. He sent all the right political cues. It is clear that he is demitting office but not quitting active politics. His role in the days to come will depend a lot on how his interests are taken care of as part of this transition.
Much has been made of the caste factor in play in Karnataka politics. It must be noted that the Lingayats have been voting for the BJP since the 1990s for a range of reasons. The alliance with Ramakrishna Hegde’s Lok Shakti played an important role in winning over the community especially in Northern Karnataka. While leadership was a key factor, the impact of the core ideology of the BJP in winning support cannot be overlooked. Thus, even if a prominent leader from among the Lingayats is demitting office it does not mean that the community could sway away from the BJP. The Lingayat support is not solely driven by the leadership factor.
Even as one waits with bated breath for the BJP to decide on Yediyurappa’s successor, a few things are clear. He will be handpicked by the central leadership of the party. The BJP leadership is known to spring a surprise when making such announcements. Whoever would be the new chief minister of Karnataka would categorically be someone who has the goodwill and trust of the central leadership. The BJP has always used a leadership change as an opportunity to break away from the past. One is not sure whether that can be attempted in Karnataka.
Given the fact that an important chunk of the BJP legislature party consists of those who have moved to the party over the last decade, this breaking away from the past may not be without unanticipated hiccups. It would be interesting to see how the BJP leadership ensures continuity with change. Continuity there will need to be keeping in mind that the outgoing chief minister will very much still be around and politically active. Change there surely will be, given the desire of the leadership to steer a new path. Reconciling the emerging contradictions will be the greatest challenge. The Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular) too would be waiting in the political wings eagerly watching these developments. Interesting days ahead for politics in the state.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the stand of this publication.)