Bengaluru: The controversy triggered in Karnataka by state minister K.S. Eshwarappa’s letter to the governor against B.S. Yediyurappa comes as the latest challenge for the besieged chief minister.
Credited with leading the BJP’s inroads into its first southern turf, Yediyurappa is believed to have fallen out of favour with the BJP brass owing to certain actions seen as “unilateral”, including the alleged orchestration of defections from the Congress and the JD(S) in 2019 to bring the party to office.
Among other things, Eshwarappa has accused Yediyurappa of interference and authoritarianism. The fact that a state minister has written to the governor with complaints against the Chief Minister has been described as unprecedented.
While the BJP’s national leadership has publicly criticised the letter, there are voices within the party that say there was a need to “expose Yediyurappa’s wrongdoings”. There is also speculation that the letter couldn’t have been written by Eshwarappa without a furtive nod from the BJP brass.
Even so, many senior leaders of the Karnataka BJP have called Eshwarappa’s step “deplorable”, saying the issues raised could have been taken up with the chief minister.
The letter follows years of rancour and an alleged contest of one-upmanship between Eshwarappa and Yediyurappa, and analysts say the letter may offer a final resolution to this battle.
Rural Development and Panchayati Raj (RDPR) Minister Eshwarappa submitted his five-page letter to the governor Wednesday. In it, he has accused Yediyurappa of serious lapses and running the state in an authoritarian way.
The leader said Yediyurappa sanctioned “huge funds on request of the MLAs to the tune of Rs 774 crore under RDPR department bypassing the minister-in-charge”.
Speaking to ThePrint, he said it “is unfortunate that we see such kind of interference”. “Had I not brought it out and reported it to the leadership, what is my role then as a minister and a leader?” Eshwarappa said.
ThePrint reached the Chief Minister’s Office spokesperson for a comment on this report, but they refused to offer one.
Last month, Eshwarappa had written to BJP national general secretary in charge of Karnataka Arun Singh, and accused Yediyurappa of mismanagement. Among other things, he reportedly alleged that a substantial allocation was made to constituencies led by non-BJP MLAs.
In a conversation with the media Thursday, Singh said Eshwarappa should not have written to the governor but tried to resolve the issues with the chief minister or at the party level.
Speaking to ThePrint, several state BJP leaders — including R. Ashok, C.C. Patil and B.C. Patil — said Eshwarappa’s act was “deplorable”.
“If there was an issue, he could have discussed it with the CM directly rather than creating an uproar of this sort,” Revenue Minister R. Ashok said.
However, there are others who support Eshwarappa. “The timing couldn’t have been better,” said a BJP leader from Eshwarappa’s camp.
“There was a need to expose wrongdoings. If Karnataka needs a strong clean leader for the 2023 assembly elections then this is the right time to bring it to the notice of all,” the leader added.
While this is the first instance of a minister submitting a complaint against Yediyurappa, there are other voices of criticism within the BJP. One such voice is that of BJP MLA Basvanagouda Yatnal, who has been publicly speaking of an imminent leadership change in the state.
Yet another challenge for Yediyurappa
Yediyurappa’s ongoing stint as CM has been ridden with problems since day one. At first, there was a delay in announcing the date of his swearing-in ceremony, as the leader awaited a green signal from the party’s central leadership.
He then led a one-man cabinet for three months before the BJP leadership lent him an ear to shortlist his ministerial picks.
Then the BJP leadership appointed three deputy chief ministers, even though Yediyurappa is known to have opposed the prospect of having even one. When it came to the choice of Rajya Sabha nominees last year, his suggestions were not accepted either, insiders told ThePrint.
Adding to his troubles are the reopening of two investigations against him. On Wednesday, the Karnataka High Court vacated a stay on an investigation against Yediyurappa in relation to a criminal case registered against him in 2019 over allegations that he tried to bribe Janata Dal (Secular) MLA Naganagouda Kandkur to switch parties.
Last month, another bench of the Karnataka High Court directed a special court to reinstate a 2012 land denotification case against Yediyurappa.
A feud lasting decades
Yediyurappa and Eshwarappa have been in a feud for decades. In the late 1980s, both leaders were elected as MLAs from the Shivamogga district, but Eshwarappa emerged as Yediyurappa’s critic as the Lingayat leader grew stronger. Eshwarappa belongs to the Kuruba community (OBC).
In 2009, Yediyurappa suggested his eldest son B.Y. Raghavendra’s name as a Lok Sabha candidate from the party.
At a party meeting, Eshwarappa objected, saying the BJP was not involved in dynasty politics, and called for a seasoned politician to be given the ticket.
“Yediyurappa was livid and told the leaders present that he is going to suggest his son’s name to the central leadership. If anybody wants to object, they could do so in front of the party leaders. Yediyurappa threw this challenge at Eshwarappa as well but his political stature was such that they could not dispute it,” said a senior BJP leader from Shivamogga, who has worked closely with Yediyurappa.
When the BJP and the Janata Dal (Secular) were partners in a coalition government, they had a power-sharing formula where each party would govern for 20 months. In 2011, when there were serious talks underway on who in the BJP would succeed JD(S) leader H.D. Kumaraswamy, Eshwarappa is known to have named late Union Minster Ananth Kumar, saying he was one of the most popular faces of the BJP. Yediyurappa, however, insisted that he alone should be the CM.
In 2016, Eshwarappa, then the leader of Opposition in the Vidhan Parishad, announced the launch of the Sangolli Rayanna Brigade, a group that would work towards consolidating Dalits in Karnataka. Many within the BJP saw it as a bid to upstage Yediyurappa.
Political analyst Mahadev Prakash, who worked as Yediyurappa’s media adviser until 2020, said “never in Karnataka’s political history has a minister complained against a sitting CM alleging nepotism and corruption”.
“This is the climax of the brewing clash between the two leaders. One head will roll — Yediyurappa’s or Eshwarappa’s,” he added. “Yediyurappa, if forced, will have to step down as CM. If he manages to convince the central leadership, then Eshwarappa may be suspended for anti-party activities. All of it will slowly unfold,” Prakash added.
Political analyst Sandeep Shastri said there doesn’t seem to be “much more fight left in him (Yediyurappa)”. “He has reached a point of political exhaustion,” he added.
It is quite clear, Shastri said, that Eshwarappa would not have taken such a bold step unless he had a “polite nod from the BJP leadership”.
“A challenge has opened for the CM on one more front. It is unimaginable in the BJP to expect such an action by a leader if he did not receive some sort of green signal or indication to go ahead,” he said.
(Edited by Sunanda Ranjan)
This report has been updated with additional information