Bengaluru: Former Karnataka minister and the BJP MLA from Vijayapura (formerly Bijapur), Basanagouda Ramagouda Patil Yatnal, is a known baiter of Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa. He has made his chief ministerial ambitions quite plain, while time and again attacking Yediyurappa and his family.
The BJP has for the most part ignored Yatnal’s outbursts, barring a few exceptions — on 12 February the party issued him a show-cause notice, telling him to raise his concerns on party forums.
Now, almost a month later, Yatnal has done it again. And while what he said is routine, the stage where he chose to slam Yediyurappa from is likely to make it difficult for the BJP to ignore him.
It came at a protest by Panchamasali Lingayats on 1 March, when Yatnal said Yediyurappa was “junior” to him.
Panchamasali Lingayat is a sect that is agitating for a revision of its quota. Yatnal, who belongs to the sect, has been one of the leaders spearheading the protests demanding improved reservation status, which would ensure 15 per cent reservation, from the current 5 per cent, in educational institutions and government jobs.
The Panchamasalis account for 70 per cent of the Lingayats, the BJP’s core voter-base in Karnataka. And while Yediyurappa is also a Lingayat, he belongs to the Veerashaiva sect.
The chief minister and his government are in a spot — not ceding to the demands could anger the Panchamasalis but enhancing their reservation could antagonise other Lingayat sects. The chief minister has promised to address the issue though he has said in the House that he could do nothing about the demand.
Yediyurappa’s problems, however, have been aggravated by Yatnal’s posturing at the protests.
Before his outburst Monday, Yatnal was among the Panchamasali leaders who led a huge rally of the sect at the Palace Grounds in Bengaluru on 21 February. At the rally, he had issued an ultimatum to the government, saying he would raise the demand on 4 March, the opening day of the state assembly’s budget session.
All of this has made the BJP take note of the warring MLA.
“After maintaining a low profile for several years, he has suddenly begun openly expressing his aspiration to be chief minister, an act that may be bordering on the rogue,” said a BJP leader.
BJP insiders say as a long term karyakarta, Yatnal enjoys the support of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which has allowed him to be critical of Yediyurappa.
“He is cleverly using the battle for dominance between Yediyurappa and the RSS to his benefit,” said a senior BJP functionary. “He is aware that RSS leaders are not happy with Yediyurappa’s functioning and he is positioning himself as the right candidate to criticise the CM.”
The CM baiter
The 58-year-old Yatnal began his political career in 1994. A two-term MP, he was a union minister under the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government. He has been the Vijayapura MLA since 2018.
Since the BJP came back to power in Karnataka in 2019, he has been attacking Yediyurappa.
In October last year, he insisted that Yediyurappa would not be the CM for long, making a similar assertion in December, saying that the party was looking for a leadership change. The party high command had to then step in and quell the rumours. It, however, took no action against Yatnal.
The MLA had then also made no bones of the fact that he harboured CM ambitions. “Who said I cannot be the chief minister? I could be if it is my destiny” Yatnal said at a rally in December, just before Home Minister Amit Shah visited the southern state.
Then in January this year, Yatnal claimed that the chief minister was rewarding JD(S) and Congress rebels as they had a “CD” against him.
“Yediyurappa has a new quota for blackmailers and corrupt politicians who bribe him and his son B.Y. Vijayendra,” Yatnal claimed at a public function in Vijayapura on 13 January. He alleged that a group of BJP leaders met him at a guest house in Nelamangala on the outskirts of Bengaluru in January with the intention to pull down the government.
“If I had joined them in blackmailing the CM with a CD, I could have become deputy chief minister today,” Yatnal added.
He followed this up with allegations in February that the Yediyurappa’s family was corrupt and also claimed that the chief minister had been treating several constituencies in North Karnataka in a “step-motherly” fashion.
Despite several efforts to rein in Yatnal, both by Yediyurappa and BJP chief J.P. Nadda, the MLA’s tirades continue.
The show-cause notice issued to him on 12 February had also asked him to appear before the party’s disciplinary committee in Delhi. On 23 February, he called to Delhi to meet the BJP bosses who once again warned him against making statements against Yediyurappa. Though Yatnal claimed that his visit was personal, BJP sources confirmed that he met with senior leaders Nadda and Arun Singh in the capital.
The tension has become so evident, that the BJP brass is now in a dilemma — having to decide which of the leaders they would like to unequivocally support.
Sources said that senior BJP leaders in Delhi do understand that if they take any stern action against Yatnal, it could have serious repercussions, especially now that he has emerged as a leader of the Panchamsalis.
“That is why the decision on action against Yatnal needs to be taken carefully,” a senior minister told ThePrint.