Putting to rest days of speculation, BS Yediyurappa handed over his resignation to Karnataka Governor Thawar Chand Gehlot on Monday. His announcement came at a programme organised to present the government’s report card on the occasion of the completion of two years of the BJP government in office, at Vidhan Soudha.
In a tearful speech, the 78-year-old Lingayat strongman said, “I have decided to resign as the Chief Minister of Karnataka”, talking repeatedly how life has been an “agni pareeksha” for him. He also said he would not retire from politics and would continue to play a role in it. This may be his last innings as he has already served as the CM four times.
Bookanakere Siddalingappa Yediyurappa, or BS Yediyurappa or simply BSY, has been a fixture in Karnataka politics for the past 38 years. Even his sworn enemies like his determination and tenacity. His friends and fans admire his never-say-die spirit. At the age of 76, after six failed attempts to dislodge the HD Kumaraswamy-led government, Yediyurappa had succeeded in the seventh attempt after 18 days of day and night drama in July 2019.
In the 2018 Assembly elections, Yediyurappa led the party. But, the BJP stopped at 104. The majority mark of 113 eluded him and for the third time, he had to quit in just 56 hours after taking oath as the chief minister. Most had written his political obituary, declaring that the BSY era was over.
But Yediyurappa did not lose hope. He decided to stay back and fight. He took oath as Karnataka CM for the fourth time in the last 14 years. Every time, he had to move heaven and earth to helm the state affairs.
He first took oath as CM in 2007 with the help of the JD(S) but that experiment collapsed in just seven days. Making Gowdas’ “betrayal” his main poll plank, Yediyurappa led BJP to victory in 2008, a first for the saffron party in south India. He was short of just three seats for a clear majority mark of 113. That shaky government lasted for 38 months. He had to go to jail in a corruption case after demitting office. His third term was the shortest, lasting for just 56 hours.
Even though Yediyurappa is now known as the tallest Lingayat leader, for most of his political career, he was known as a farmers’ leader. His story is a typical rags to riches one.
Born into a poor farming family at Bukanakere in Mandya district in 1943, Yediyurappa lost his mother when he was a child. When in school, he sold lemons at weekly markets to fund his education and feed his family. He also worked at a factory in Bengaluru as a helper.
In the early 1960s, he came in contact with the RSS and became a ‘pracharak’. He was sent to Shimoga to spread RSS activities that changed his life forever and he never looked back. Quitting the job of ‘pracharak’, he joined a rice mill as a clerk at Shiralakoppa in Shimoga district and eventually married the owner’s daughter.
He organised Jana Sangh activities in Shimoga, which was the hotbed of socialist parties. In the early 1970s, he was elected to Shikaripura municipality as a member on Bhartiya Jana Sangh ticket. He became a voice of the oppressed farmers and labourers organising a march of the bonded labourers.
In 1983, he was elected to Karnataka Assembly on a BJP ticket along with 17 others. The BJP gave support to Ramakrishna Hegde-led Janata Party government, the first non-Congress government in Karnataka. But that alliance collapsed in just 18 months. In the 1985 Assembly elections, the BJP won just two seats. After the other MLA, Vasantha Bangera, defected to Janata Party, Yediyurappa remained the lone member of the BJP in the Assembly. By raising pro-farmer issues, he had put the Hegde government on the mat, earning him the sobriquet of ‘fighter’.
In the 1989 elections, the BJP managed to improve its tally from one seat to four. The Ram Janmabhoomi movement and LK Advani’s Rath Yatra made the BJP popular in Karnataka, and in the 1994 Assembly elections, the BJP became the main opposition party by winning 44 seats. When HD Deve Gowda became the chief minister, BSY became the leader of the opposition.
In the 1999 Assembly elections, Yediyurappa suffered his first electoral defeat. Realising that he would be made irrelevant without power, Yediyurappa chose to enter the upper house as an MLC.
In the 2004 elections, for the first time, the BJP became the single-largest party by winning 79 seats. Two years later, in a midnight coup, he unseated N Dharam Singh-led Congress–JDS government, joined hands with HD Kumaraswamy and formed a coalition government in which he became deputy chief minister. That infamous ‘20-20’ experiment too collapsed in 20 months, making Yediyurappa and HDK sworn enemies.
Yediyurappa’s 38-month rule between 2008 and 2011 was chaotic, marked with internal strife and charges of corruption. The mining scam did him in and he was forced to quit as CM in July 2011. A few weeks later, he was sent to jail briefly in a land scam case. That dented his image and the opposition still mockingly calls him ‘Jailurappa’.
Yediyurappa had held his own party leaders responsible for his jail term and quit the BJP to form the Karnataka Janatha Party (KJP) ahead of the 2013 Assembly elections. That experiment proved disastrous, with him winning just six seats. A year later, he returned to the BJP and went on to become a Lok Sabha member from Shimoga in the 2014 general elections.
In the 2018 Assembly elections, he led the party as the state BJP president. To his bad luck, it turned out to be a classic case of too-close-yet-too-far.
Strangely, with a career spanning decades, Yediyurappa always had to chase power. Though he has resigned as the Karnataka CM, but as a politician he may still be in the game.