Old War Horse Yeddyurappa Stands in the Way as BJP Attempts to Repeat 2014 Feat in Karnataka
The BJP is staring at an existential problem in Karnataka, as the Congress and JD(S) look set for a pre-poll alliance in 2019.
File photo of BS Yeddyurappa.
Bengaluru: Losing four of five poll contests counts as a drubbing in any book. But the BJP’s performance in the by-elections to three Lok Sabha and two Assembly seats in Karnataka early November is not just a drubbing but a full-blown crisis.
The finger-pointing has started and most point in the direction of BS Yeddyurappa, the state unit chief and Leader of the Opposition. His son, BY Raghavendra, was the lone victor, securing the Shimoga Lok Sabha seat his father vacated. The margin, about 55,000 votes, was nothing to write home about.
The BSY problem
Yeddyurappa, 75, rehabilitated in the BJP in 2014 ahead of the general elections, is under severe pressure to make way for younger leaders. His detractors blame him for the by-election defeat as well as the failure to engineer defections to topple the Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) coalition government. His unsuccessful attempts at another ‘Operation Lotus’ are being portrayed as desperate bids by an old man hankering after power. The man who built the BJP in Karnataka now resembles a hobbling, aged war horse. The problem for the BJP is that its stable in Karnataka is not particularly overflowing with young talent.
Truth be told, the biggest loser in the by-election is not Yeddyurappa but the man touted as the next Karnataka leader. B Sriramulu, 47, was being spoken of as a potential deputy chief minister and maybe even chief minister one day.
A former aide of Ballari’s Reddy brothers, he was seen as a dynamic young talent from the tribal Nayaka community who could securely keep northwestern Karnataka for the BJP. But come bypolls, he couldn’t even ensure the victory of his sister, J Shantha, who lost the Ballari Lok Sabha seat to Congress’ VS Ugrappa. The margin was nearly 2,50,000 votes in a constituency that Sriramulu represented.
The by-elections have exposed the state of affairs in the party on the eve of the general election — neither does its present (represented by Yeddyurappa) nor the future (Sriramulu) look so bright.
Others have had their chances and failed to impress. Sadananda Gowda and Jagadish Shettar have neither the charisma nor the zeal to lead the party. Ananth Kumar is no more and KS Eshwarappa is confined to his home district of Shimoga.
The BJP is staring at an existential problem, as the Congress and the JD(S) look set for a pre-poll alliance for next year’s general election. With a vote-share that easily topped 50% in the last two Lok Sabha polls, the Congress-JD(S) combine is formidable. The bypolls were a warning bell.
BJP president Amit Shah has his task cut out in a state which has consistently delivered for the saffron party. When he decides to confront the leadership question, he won’t have many options. The party will have to again bank on Modi as the main vote-getter.
Assuming all things work in its favour, the arithmetic is such that the BJP might not match its 2014 performance when it won 17 of the 28 seats. Shah’s best bet is to split the ruling alliance and win over the JD(S).
The price the party will have to pay will be the chief ministership. If the Congress, with 80 seats, can cede the top job to HD Kumaraswamy, why not the BJP, which has 104 seats? If Shah decides the price is worth paying, he will have another problem — Yeddyurappa. The old war horse may be hobbling but he can still kick.
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