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Karnataka Election 2018: Dining With Dalits, BS Yeddyurappa Plans to Bite Into Congress Votebank

BJP Karnataka chief BS Yeddyurappa, along with party leaders,  having a  breakfast at the house of a Dalit at Kakri Basaveshwar Nagar in Hubballi. (Photo: PTI)

BJP Karnataka chief BS Yeddyurappa, along with party leaders, having a breakfast at the house of a Dalit at Kakri Basaveshwar Nagar in Hubballi. (Photo: PTI)

For Yeddyurappa, it is one last opportunity to reclaim what he has felt was unjustifiably denied to him — a full term as the Chief Minister of Karnataka.

News18 Sunday Feature“It’s a historic occasion, sir. For the first time, India will have a Dalit President and an OBC Prime Minister,” says S Somesekar, meticulously dressing the first morsel of idli in three blobs of chutneys adorning the fine white bone china plate.

BS Yedyurappa (BSY), at the head of the table, nods in agreement. On his right, former minister Katta Naidu gingerly lowers a tablespoon of pongal into the mouth. His small, round piercing eyes move nervously around to grasp and register every bit of information floating about with wafts of steaming south Indian delicacies; the white fur cap precariously perched on the head, completing the sartorial ensemble.

BSY introduces Somesekar as a senior leader and former minister. “I was a minister in Ramakrishna Hegde government. We were colleagues, me and Siddaramaiah,” says Somesekar, adding some heft to his profile.

Outside, the crowd is growing as supporters trickle in to meet the leader. BSY would be leaving for Kolar after an early breakfast. This is the last leg of his state-wide yatra to galvanise the party in preparations before the Assembly polls slated for April next year.

For Yeddyurappa, it is one last opportunity to reclaim what he has felt was unjustifiably denied to him — a full term as the Chief Minister of Karnataka.


Picking up the threads from where Somesekar left, the former Karnataka CM admits the party needs to take a slice off Congress’s Ahind combination (a loose coalition of Dalits, minorities and Backward Classes) to script its return to power.

“My target is to win at least 40% of the Dalit votes. It would catapult us past 150 seats. That’s the target I have set for myself,” says the septuagenarian leader.

In its second term in office at the Centre, the BJP under Modi and Shah has worked overtime to pole-vault into the other side of the class divide


Clad in his trademark loose fitting safari suit, BSY gets up and trudges out towards the SUV parked at the gate. “Some regions of Hyderabad-Karnataka have pockets of Koli votes. We can plan a felicitation for Mr (Ram Nath) Kovind at a later date,” he says to no one in particular.

Politicians, like pace-bowlers, have a big heart. They simply never give up.

When BSY’s Ministerial Hopes Were Dashed
The BJP had registered its biggest victory in Lok Sabha polls, a clear majority to rule the country. TV channels were dishing out their own list of potential ministers in the Modi cabinet.

BSY was a strong contender for a ministerial berth from Karnataka. Within six months of his return to the party, he and his close aides had contested and won comfortably. A plum ministry would have cemented his position in the party further, a near rehabilitation of sorts.

Amid celebrations and congratulatory calls, an emissary of the top BJP leadership met BSY at his Dollar Road residence in Bangalore. The newly elected MP from Shimoga was told that Prime Minister Modi would not be able to accommodate him in his council of minister.

Sources in the BSY household say the veteran leader listened in to the emissary in rapt silence. He did not react at all.

Two days later, a newspaper in Delhi carried a story quoting sources close to BSY claiming the veteran leader is looking for a role in the state politics instead.

Ananth Kumar and Sadananda Gowda were soon to be sworn in as Cabinet ministers in Modi government. Watching from the sidelines, BSY decided to patiently wait for his turn.

Storming the Congress Strongholds
Before finalising tickets, BSY plans to visit each of the 224 Assembly segments in the state. His first stopover of the day is Melur in Kolar district, a sleepy little town 45km east of Bangalore. The first step —garlanding of Dr BR Ambedkar’s statue at a busy crossroad.

He then heads straight to a Dalit village on the outskirts. Rains last night have washed the concrete roads clean. Pucca houses are neatly lined up in neat rows along concrete roads. Winding past, BSY’s convoy stops at Muniappa’s home for a small snack at the Dalit household.

It is straight out of the template set by party president Amit Shah of reaching out of constituencies which have traditionally been out of the party’s grasp. Kolar — once famous for its goldmines — will be a test case in this experiment to expand the BJP’s social footprint. Of the six assembly segments, three are reserved.

Since Independence, Kolar has been Congress’s pocket borough. The party has lost this Lok Sabha seat only once. KM Muniappa, the seven-time MP and former MoS Railways, has been winning this from here since 1991.

In his short address, BSY takes a swipe at the Grand Old Party. “The Congress used to say garibi hatao (eradicate poverty). People have remained poor while the leaders have become rich.”

But the leitmotif of this grueling yatra, which is taking to all constituencies in the state, is evident just five minutes into his speech. “We have chosen one amongst you to be the next president of India,” he says. “The Congress on the other hand sought to deny Dr Ambedkar a seat in the first Lok Sabha. Congress betrayed Dr Ambedkar,” BSY goes on.

“Breakfast at Dalit home, lunch with members from the backward community,” says a local leader.


In its second term in office at the Centre, the BJP under Modi and Shah has worked overtime to pole-vault into the other side of the class divide — to breach a barrier and mark its presence in areas traditionally dominated by the Congress.

This election, Karnataka will be no different.

Food Diplomacy
The roadside marquee at Bangarpet is packed to its capacity. Billboard across vouches for ‘the long life’ of Microtek car batteries.

On the stage, Union Minister for Statistics and Programme Implementation Sadananda Gowda underscores welfare schemes run by the central government.

In opposition-ruled states, at the organisation level, BJP leaders have been instructed to ensure ruling parties do not claim ownership for centrally sponsored schemes.

At Bangarapet, BSY shares dais with Gowda, to distribute bottled gas connections under Ujjwala scheme; a Government of India function, so you need a minster on stage. That partially explains Gowda’s presence here.

For the BJP as a party, the elections next year hold tactical importance.


On the sidelines, Bangalore Central MP PC Mohan is talking animatedly to party workers, seeking inputs. Soon, Karnataka BJP will kick-start its mass campaign at the grass roots with special emphasis on strengthening booth committees. Leaders have been instructed to devote at least a fortnight for the purpose.

The function over, workers head towards district BJP president’s home where lunch would be served.

Yeddyurappa’s car stops at another house down the road.

“Breakfast at Dalit home, lunch with members from the backward community,” says a local leader.

BSY’s Opportunity
Raths and yatras are undisputedly two of the BJP’s most original contribution to India’s political tableaux.

At Bethmangla, the last lap of the day’s campaign is a road show atop an open truck led by women carrying auspicious kalash atop their head. It’s a 2-km drive to the rally ground, a show of strength.

What’s his routine like at this age? Does he take a nap in the afternoon?

“He says I will fall sick if I stay home for a week and do not meet people,” an aide answers.

For the BJP as a party, the elections next year hold tactical importance. A victory here would choke the Congress of resources before the next general elections. Karnataka is the only big state the party is in power.

For Yeddyurappa, it is one last opportunity to reclaim what he has felt was unjustifiably denied to him — a full term as the Chief Minister of the state.

Late in the evening, the 74-year-old Lingayat leader returns to Bangalore. It is well past 10pm and his convoy is still on the move, towards the airport to meet BJP chief Amit Shah who will stay the night before taking early morning flight to Pudducherry.

“We will do a few surveys before elections. But Amit Shahji will finalise all the tickets,” he says.

These, after all, are different times. The regional satrap from Karnataka knows it all too well.

(More Sunday Features)