A day after India’s 76th Independence Day, former Karnataka chief minister BS Yediyurappa, who was unseated a year ago because he was above 75 years old, hit the jackpot. The BJP high command in New Delhi rewarded him with two posts — member of the party’s supreme decision-making body, the Parliamentary Board, and the Central Election Committee.
Going against its own decision of not giving any political posts to leaders above the age of 75, the BJP high command brought Yediyurappa back to active politics, keeping in mind the crucial Karnataka Assembly elections early next year and the Lok Sabha elections a year after that.
Celebrations broke out immediately in Karnataka BJP, and the state leadership, led by Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai, rushed to Yediyurappa’s house to congratulate him on his elevation.
Yediyurappa is the senior-most leader in the reconstituted Parliamentary Board as he is one of the founding members of the BJP and was associated with its previous avatar Jana Sangh as well. He joined the Jana Sangh in 1967.
His sudden elevation has proved a few things — the importance of being BSY, as he is popularly known in political circles; the realisation that the ruling BJP’s chances are slimmer minus him in Assembly elections early next year; and his control over the Lingayat votes.
According to insiders, the high command had got rid of him with the intention of building a new leadership base to lead the party in future. But, in the last one year, they seem to have realised that winning Karnataka again without Yediyurappa would be an uphill task and they need to bring him back.
Bommai, who had replaced Yediyurappa in July last year, has been fighting several battles, both within and outside the party. Lacking his predecessor’s stature and popularity has also added to his woes. The party has been split in the middle, with majority of the leaders still identifying themselves with Yediyurappa.
Bommai is treading a tightrope, primarily to complete his term first. He has not been able to take control of either the party or the government. The beneficiary is Yediyurappa.
The main opposition Congress mocked the BJP, claiming that the latter’s high command has brought Yediyurappa just one step closer to the Margdarshak Mandal.
The undiminished popularity of former CM and Leader of Opposition Siddaramaiah has also unnerved the BJP and the massive turnout of lakhs of people at the Congress leader’s 75th birthday in Davanagere on August 3 has set off alarm bells in the ruling party’s camp.
To counter the Congress’s most powerful and popular leader, the BJP is forced to bring Yediyurappa back from retirement. With Yediyurappa back in play and Siddaramaiah flexing muscles, Karnataka politics is getting ready for a major face-off once again.
But both BJP and Congress are faction-ridden and personal ambitions of various leaders are likely to affect the overall performance in Assembly elections.
Recently, transport minister and influential tribal leader of the BJP, B Sri Ramulu, dropped a bombshell by openly endorsing Siddaramaiah for chief ministership. An embarrassed BJP termed it as his “personal view” and the insecurities of the anti-Siddaramaiah camp in the Congress, led by KPCC president DK Shivakumar, have grown.
The BJP often takes on the Congress, reminding people that a Siddaramaiah vs Shivakumar fight can cost them dearly.
The Karnataka situation is so complex that the BJP and Congress certainly don’t like the huge popularity of Yediyurappa and Siddaramaiah, but can’t do without them either. The two leaders have become indispensable in many ways and will have to be accommodated and tolerated in the larger interest.
Yediyurappa, Siddaramaiah and HD Deve Gowda together command over 35% of the total vote share in Karnataka, making them unassailable.
DK Shivakumar had organised a Tiranga Yatra on August 15 in Bengaluru. It was seen as a counter to Siddaramaiah’s birthday bash. But Shivakumar’s show of strength lacked the charm and spontaneous support that Siddaramaiah’s birthday drew.
Closer to elections, the gap between Siddaramaiah and DK Shivakumar is widening, causing anxiety in the Congress camp which is hoping to return to power.
The elevation of Yediyurappa may not automatically help the BJP in a big way as he is highly unlikely to return as the CM if the party manages to retain power. At best, it can stop further erosion of the BJP vote bank and enthuse the cadre.
If the state Assembly election throws up yet another hung Assembly, the Gowdas of the JD-S will be sitting in driver’s seat, almost ending the innings of both Yediyurappa and Siddaramaiah.
The Karnataka conundrum, thus, continues.