Karnataka chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa must be watching political developments in the poll-bound states with curiosity, albeit with a tinge of desolation.
He could almost see Mithun Chakraborty chuckling on Saturday when the Enforcement Directorate (ED) was attaching assets of Trinamool Congress MP Satabdi Roy in connection with the Saradha chit fund scam. Both Roy and Chakraborty were the brand ambassadors of the Saradha Group. Both had returned to the ED the money they got as remuneration from the conglomerate. But on Saturday, Chakraborty was happily holding roadshows while Roy was helplessly watching the ED attach her assets. He had joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) last month while she remained in Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress (TMC).
Two other top guns of the BJP today — national vice-president Mukul Roy and Assam minister Himanta Biswa Sarma — were also facing the heat from central agencies for their alleged involvement in the Saradha scam. It has gone cold now. They are prominent BJP leaders today.
In another development last week, the Election Commission of India, true to its revised standards of impartiality, reduced the campaigning ban on Sarma from 48 to 24 hours to enable him to make the best of the last day of campaigning in Assam.
Looking at how Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah take care of their finds from other parties, Yediyurappa must be wondering what has gone wrong after his ghar wapsi — his return to the BJP in 2014 at the behest of then prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi. If his party put a premium on chief ministerial hopeful, who defected from other parties, why should he be grudged for becoming the chief minister by emulating in Karnataka what the BJP did in many states? He brought down the Janata Dal (S)-Congress government 20 months back but has had a rough ride all through, with the BJP high command first saddling him with three deputies and then denying him for long the comfort of having his own team of ministers.
Silence at the top
For a leader who had joined the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) 50 years ago and has remained loyal to the party for all but 14 months, the writing on the wall must be so clear: The BJP high command wants him to step down and aside. Last week when minister K.S. Eshwarappa wrote to the governor and the top party leadership, complaining against the CM, the BJP high command’s response was unmistakable in mildness of tone and tenor.
“Whatever the differences, he should have discussed with the chief minister and in the party forum,” said Arun Singh, BJP general secretary in-charge of Karnataka. Eshwarappa’s complaint about Yediyurappa’s style of functioning will not go unattended either. Singh said the contents of the letter will be discussed after the assembly elections.
Yediyurappa wouldn’t be wrong if he were to interpret this response from Delhi as a signal to his dissidents to step up. It becomes all the more evident by the silence of the high command over the constant attack by BJP MLAs on the CM. After the cabinet expansion last January, over half-a-dozen BJP MLAs went around town telling people how the CM had been blackmailed “with a CD” into giving ministerial berths.
Senior MLA Basanagouda Patil Yatnal, an emerging Lingayat leader, has been constantly attackingYediyurappa publicly, embarrassing him and the government. In a party like the BJP, such acts of indiscipline would invite suspension, if not immediate expulsion. The BJP leadership in Bengaluru and Delhi has, however, chosen to look the other way.
The dissidents are mounting pressure on Yediyurappa at a time when old corruption cases have returned to haunt him. Last Wednesday, the Karnataka High Court vacated the stay on investigations into a 2019 criminal case against him for allegedly offering money and ministership to a JD(S) MLA’s son. About a fortnight back, the high court had directed a special court to re-instate an old case against Yediyurappa for alleged corruption in the de-notification of land. The CM has suffered legal setbacks in three other corruption cases against him in the past five months.
Options before Yediyurappa
As it is, B.S. Yediyurappa looks in no mood to give up even as he works on a succession plan for his son, Vijayendra. Taking advantage of the fact that he remains the tallest Lingayat leader and the only BJP leader with mass appeal pan-Karnataka, the chief minister, 78, has managed to defy the unwritten RSS and BJP age criterion — nobody to hold any office after 75 years. Wary of a possible repeat of 2012 when Yediyurappa had quit the BJP to float his own party and ensuring the defeat of his parent party in the 2013 assembly election, the BJP central leadership has been guarded in their dealings with him. But BJP insiders now say that Yediyurappa must start counting his days in the CM’s chair. Initially, his dissenters had the ears of BJP general secretary (organisation) B.L. Santhosh, an arch-rival of Yediyurappa, only. But Modi and Shah have also become indifferent to the septuagenarian leader who clings on to the chair, jeopardising the party’s plans for expansion and grooming of a new face for the next election two years away. There is no way that Modi and Shah will go to the next polls with an 80-year-old man as the party’s face. The high court opening/re-opening so many probes against him has made his position untenable.
Yediyurappa must look at a graceful retirement option. He doesn’t have either the age or the MLAs on his side to force a showdown with the high command, if push comes to shove. Politicians are not known to salute the setting sun that the Lingayat leader is today. Besides, the BJP has been consciously promoting many other Lingayat leaders to keep the community engaged if Yediyurappa must go down kicking and screaming. BJP leaders from Karnataka, however, say he should settle for rehabilitation in a Raj Bhawan and/or a place for his son in Narendra Modi’s Council of Ministers.
Views are personal.
(Edited by Neera Majumdar)