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HomeElectionsRespect, but without the reins? How Karnataka BJP's giving Yediyurappa mixed signals

Respect, but without the reins? How Karnataka BJP’s giving Yediyurappa mixed signals

Political experts say not seeing Yediyurappa at the helm in upcoming assembly elections may affect Lingayat votes, a dominant community in Karnataka with considerable political clout.

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Bengaluru: When Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Shivamogga in Karnataka on 27 February, his gesture of walking up to former Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa and holding his hand as a sign of warm friendship created a lot of buzz in the state’s political circles. 

It has also appeared in recent months that the Bharatiya Janata Party leadership has been trying to please Yediyurappa, it’s most prominent Lingayat face in the state. The Lingayat’s, part of Other Backward Class (OBC) in Karnataka, are a dominant community in the state with considerable political clout.

Yediyurappa who was removed as CM in July 2021, was inducted into the party’s Parliamentary Board last year.

Speculations have therefore been rife about his role in this year’s upcoming assembly elections in Karnataka.

The campaign committee constituted Friday for the polls, however, has sent out a clear message that while the BJP high command is ready to accord full respect to the octogenarian leader, there is no question of handing over the reins to him. 

Putting a lid on the speculations, Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai was named the head of the BJP campaign committee. However, though Bommai will remain the face of the party, the BJP has not declared him as its Chief Ministerial candidate for the upcoming elections. 

Meanwhile, Yediyurappa was made a member of the committee, alongside other former Chief Ministers from the party, like D.V. Sadananda Gowda and Jagadish Shettar. 

According to psephologist and political analyst Sandeep Shastri, the signals are mixed.

“The developments raise questions because you had put Yediyurappa as one among the equals. Like all the other chief ministers, you have put him on the campaign committee as a member. So, is Yediyurappa’s stature just that of a member, I don’t know. I thought the effort was to give him an element of primacy. One is not sure as to what is being anticipated,” Shastri told ThePrint. 

On its part, the BJP has named Union minister Shobha Karandlaje, a close confidante of Yediyurappa, as convenor of the election management committee. 

Karandlaje, who belongs to the electorally significant Vokkaliga community (also OBC, but a dominant community in the state) — whose backing the party will require in the Old Mysuru belt where it has little or no presence — will head the 14-member election management committee. 

Yediyurappa is one of 25 members of the campaign committee which includes state president Nalin Kumar Kateel, B.Y. Vijayendra, Yediyurappa’s son and state BJP vice-president, K.S. Eshwarappa, Karandlaje and Ramesh Jarkiholi, a former minister who is believed to be wavering in his decision to remain with the BJP. 

“With the target (in terms of election seats) set, the BJP has announced both the committees keeping eyes on forming the government on its own. And the committees have been constituted well in advance so that the nitty gritty of managing the elections and managing the campaign is handled efficiently,” Ganesh Karnik, state BJP spokesperson told ThePrint Friday. 

The Congress, meanwhile, has used the opportunity to hit out at the BJP over its alleged “mistreatment” of Yediyurappa, purportedly to cash in on the sentiments of the Lingayat community. 

Also Read: Out on bail after son caught taking bribe, Karnataka BJP MLA gets hero’s welcome in constituency

‘BJP high and low with Yediyurappa’

Former Chief Minister Yediyurappa, who has in the past announced a target to bring the BJP back to power on its own in the state, has not been given any special role or position by the party other than his elevation to the parliamentary board in August last year.

Interestingly, Yediyurappa’s name was doing the rounds as campaign committee chief until late Thursday, according to at least two people aware of the developments. 

“This is a committee and has certain protocols. Don’t you think we are going ahead with Yediyurappa as our main leader? The very fact that the Prime Minister comes to Karnataka on Yediyurappa’s birthday, inaugurates the brainchild of Yediyurappa, the Shivamogga airport, is it not a message to everybody?” said a BJP leader, requesting anonymity. 

With the Congress aggressively pursuing a strategy to gain the confidence of the Lingayat community, the campaign committee composition is unlikely to help the BJP, political experts and analysts say.

According to Shastri, there is serious doubt if the Lingayat community will continue to back the BJP,  knowing well that their tallest leader will not be an MLA, let alone a Chief Minister. 

“Those who hoped and saw a bigger role for Yediyurappa would be a little disappointed. And it’ll be interesting to see how the leader himself looks at this. Ever since he has given up his chief ministership, there has been this up and down. What he has wanted, not being conceded to yet,” he said. 

Shastri added that, if Yediyurappa’s hope was to be the chairman of the campaign committee, that has not been conceded, moreover, it remains to be seen if the party will accommodate his inputs in ticket distribution. 

Interestingly, CM Bommai is also from the Lingayat community.

Voices against Yediyurappa gained momentum after he announced that his son Vijayendra will replace him as the BJP candidate in his home constituency of Shikaripura, which is yet to be approved by the high command. 

Vijayendra had been accused of running a parallel administration when his father was the chief minister between 2019 and 2021. For some in the party, “he is a leader not just because he is Yediyurappa’s son, but is a leader by merit.”

But according to another senior BJP legislator, Vijayendra will have to earn his place within the party and cannot continue to get benefits using his father’s name.

Under Yediyurappa, the BJP formed its first government in southern India in 2008 when he was able to channel the Lingayat sentiments and secure 110 of the 224 seats. But his departure from the party in 2012 had reduced the BJP to just 40 in the 2013 assembly elections. A year later, Yediyurappa returned to the BJP, merging the Karnataka Janata Paksha, a party he has founded with the BJP.

Also Read: Fresh blow to Bommai govt — Karnataka BJP MLA resigns as govt officer son ‘caught with Rs 40 lakh bribe’

‘Like Floating water’

There is also speculation of Yediyurappa’s close aides being targeted after the Lokayukta raided and nabbed the son of BJP MLA Madal Virupakshappa and named the legislator as the first accused in the anti-corruption case.

V. Somanna, a senior legislator from Bengaluru, was left out of the campaign committee list as speculation gather steam that the 72-year-old is likely to jump ship and join the Congress ahead of the elections. 

“Somanna is like flowing water and not stagnant. My wish is that the work we do should reach everyone, we should become the voice of ordinary people,” Somanna told reporters Friday, sending out a cryptic message and neither confirming nor denying his exit from the BJP. 

The Congress has meanwhile alleged that by leaving out Somanna from the campaign committee, the “BJP has swiftly sidelined a person from the BSY (Yediyurappa) faction”.

“The reason Somanna has not been given any responsibilities is to corner Yediyurappa. Mr Bommai, has Somanna decided to flow elsewhere because the BJP has become polluted,” the Congress party said on Twitter, using the #BJPvsBSY. 

(Edited by Richa Mishra)

Also Read: ‘Sabka Saath’ in BJP cabinets, but plum portfolios still with ‘upper, dominant’ castes


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