Bengaluru/New Delhi: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is exploring the option of making former chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa the face of its election campaign in Karnataka by appointing him the party’s campaign committee chief, ThePrint has learnt.
The manoeuvre, if it materialises, will put the 80-year-old at the helm of affairs in Karnataka BJP and get the party the backing of the dominant Lingayat community, said multiple Bengaluru- and Delhi-based BJP leaders.
The bonhomie between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Yediyurappa, they added, is part of a calculated strategy to trim the BJP’s losses after findings of an internal survey hinted at strong anti-incumbency sentiment against Karnataka CM Basavaraj Bommai, who appears to have lost favour not just with the party high command but also with state BJP leaders.
Karnataka BJP spokesperson Ganesh Karnik told ThePrint, “The party has not announced it yet but if he (Yediyurappa) is declared (campaign committee chief), it will have a positive impact in Karnataka as Yediyurappa is, without a doubt, the biggest leader in Karnataka, across parties. It will give more energy to the party and the electorate.”
Confirming that the party is in the “final stages” of announcing the composition of various committees to oversee election management, Karnataka BJP vice-president Nirmal Kumar Surana said the party high command “has to take a call” on the appointment of the campaign committee chief.
BJP national spokesperson R.P. Singh added, “Yediyurappa ji is in the parliamentary board, he is the most respected leader in Karnataka, a former CM, there is no doubt that he can guide the party in the best possible manner.”
Yediyurappa, who was inducted into the BJP’s parliamentary board last August, has said that though he will not contest the 2023 Karnataka assembly elections, the octogenarian remains focussed on bringing the BJP back to power in the state with an absolute majority.
“No other leader except Yediyurappa has such a larger-than-life aura and emotional connect with the masses. People have sentimental attachment to Yediyurappa and the party is battling the negative image of the Bommai government,” a senior central BJP leader said on condition of anonymity.
The leader added that the BJP has “limited options to save” the party’s only government in southern India, describing these options as, “using Prime Minister Narendra Modi and central leaders to campaign extensively and invoking Lingayat sentiments by honouring Yediyurappa for caste consolidation”.
Many BJP leaders, however, feel this strategy might leave Lingayat voters disillusioned since Yediyurappa will not even be an MLA, let alone the chief minister. “Why will Lingayats vote when they know he is not going to be the CM or an MLA?” said a Karnataka BJP leader who wished to not be named. “That is why we have to send a message to voters that Yediyurappa is calling the shots, like deciding ticket distributions among other key roles.”
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Reservation for Lingayats & role for Vijayendra
As for the BJP, giving Yediyurappa a more proactive role will also help the party counter the narrative that the veteran Lingayat leader has been sidelined within the party since he stepped down as chief minister in 2021.
Though PM Modi, BJP chief J.P. Nadda and other senior party leaders have been heaping praises on Yediyurappa these past few weeks, the opposition has accused the ruling party of meting out ‘poor treatment’ to him, insinuating that cutting short his tenure in office was an ‘insult’ to the Lingayat community which makes up 17 per cent of the state’s population.
Yediyurappa was successful in securing the favour of the community in 2008 when H.D. Kumaraswamy-led Janata Dal (Secular) pulled its support away, days after the former became the chief minister for the first time.
The community has stood firmly behind Yediyurappa ever since.
According to opposition leaders, including Kumaraswamy and Congress’s M.B. Patil, the BJP was “compelled” to replace Yediyurappa with Basavaraj Bommai even though the latter was not their first choice since there was a backlash from the Lingayat community — a charge the BJP vehemently denies.
This, the opposition hoped, would work well in its favour as Lingayats have been wavering in their commitment to the BJP over the fact that their reservation-related demands remained unfulfilled under Bommai.
“We have to see how the community (leaders) take it. But the community has backed him (Yediyurappa) and supported us and I don’t think they will move away now,” said a BJP MP from Karnataka, requesting anonymity.
Moreover, one cannot discount the Panchamasalis, the largest sub-sect within the Lingayats, who have been protesting to demand inclusion in the ‘2A’ category of the state backward classes list in a bid to secure better employment and educational opportunities. Community leaders, including BJP MLA Basanagouda Patil (Yatnal), even warned Bommai of electoral consequences if the demands for higher reservation was not fulfilled.
The Bommai government did come up with a ‘solution’ — to include two new categories ‘2C and 2D’ in the state backward classes list to placate Lingayats and Vokkaligas — but this proposal was rejected by those leading the agitations in their respective communities, adding to speculation that they might decide against supporting the BJP come polling day.
Then there is the issue of B.Y. Vijayendra, Yediyurappa’s son and Karnataka BJP vice-president, who has been given additional responsibilities, like organising conventions in all the districts. There is, however, no clarity yet on whether he will be given a ticket to contest the assembly elections.
Yediyurappa has tried to project Vijayendra as his political successor but the BJP does not seem to be fully on board with the plan, adding to the grouse between the former CM and the party’s senior state and central leaders.
“Do we have any other option but to project and promote his (Yediyurappa) image before elections? We (BJP) project him as the chief ministerial candidate, so obviously you cannot fight the elections saying that Modi is going to be the campaign chief or in charge of the elections. Imagine someone making a statement that we will fight the elections under the leadership of Bommai or (state BJP chief Nalin Kumar) Kateel. Can we do it? Absolutely not,” said a Karnataka BJP leader who did not wish to be named.
Asked whether putting Yediyurappa front and centre is meant to cement the BJP’s support among Lingayats, the leader responded, “As it is, they (Lingayats) are with us. He (Yediyurappa) is their senior-most leader.”
(Edited by Amrtansh Arora)
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