New Delhi: On at least two important counts, senior BJP leader B.S. Yediyurappa, who was Friday sworn in as the Karnataka chief minister for the fourth time, should fall foul of the BJP’s ‘diktats’ for its leaders.
At 76 years old, Yediyurappa is past the BJP’s unofficial age bar of 75 for public life — a benchmark that the party has used to nudge several leaders, including veterans L.K. Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and Najma Heptulla, towards retirement.
Yediyurappa’s kin are also in politics, in direct conflict with the BJP’s assertions that it is averse to dynastic politics. His older son B.Y. Raghavendra is an MP while the younger son, Vijayendra Yeddyurappa, is an MLA in Karnataka. Yediyurappa’s close aide Shobha Karandlaje is also an MP.
Yet, the veteran leader has not only survived in the party but has cemented his position as its most indispensable leader in the only southern state it has a substantial stake in.
The BJP has flirted with promoting other leaders in the state such as Union Fertilisers Minister Sadananda Gowda and Jagadish Shettar, who served as the Karnataka chief minister for a brief period in 2012. But it has had to ultimately fall back on Yediyurappa and his strong Lingayat support base to win elections in Karnataka.
The Lingayat vote bank
Yediyurappa draws his political strength from his vice-like grip on his community of the Lingayats, a powerful OBC caste that constitutes 17 per cent of the state’s population. The Lingayats, along with the Veerashaiva community, can decide the electoral outcome in as many as 120 assembly segments.
The BJP first got a real glimpse of this in the 2013 assembly elections. Ahead of the polls, there had been moves within the BJP to sideline the veteran leader who had been bogged down by corruption charges.
Irritated, Yediyurappa decided to leave the BJP and in 2012 formed his own party, the Karnataka Janata Paksha (KJP). The KJP secured around 10 per cent of the votes in the 2013 polls and the BJP lost power in Karnataka. The elections not only re-emphasised the sway that Yediyurappa had over the Lingayats but also made the BJP realise that he was indispensable to the party.
The Lingayats have always favoured the BJP, particularly Yediyurappa, in a bid to counter the influence of the other OBC community of the Vokkaligas, who back the JD(S).
And they have remained loyal. Ahead of the 2018 elections, the then Congress government under Siddaramaiah recommended ‘minority’ status’ for the Lingayats, in a bid to woo the community, but the BJP-led central government struck down the move.
It did little to dampen the BJP’s poll prospects as fighting under Yediyurappa’s leadership, the party managed to win 104 of the 224 seats in the 2018 assembly polls while it won 25 out of 28 seats in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
Stints as chief minister
Yediyurappa has been synonymous with the BJP’s rise in Karnataka.
His first stint as chief minister came in 2007 after the party had emerged as the single largest in the 2004 assembly elections. But the government crumbled within the year.
Yediyurappa then led the first BJP government in a southern state in 2008 when the party managed a majority with the help of a few independents. Within a short span of time, however, a strong lobby backed by the late Ananth Kumar began to openly revolt against him. After ruling as CM for about 39 months, Yediyurappa’s name cropped up in an investigation conducted by Lokayukta of Karnataka and he was ordered to resign by the BJP Parliamentary Board in 2011.
Ananth Kumar, with the help of his political mentor L.K. Advani, moved to install Jagadish Shettar, another influential Lingayat leader, as the new chief minister. Following pressure from Yediyurappa though, the then BJP president Nitin Gadkari sent senior leaders Arun Jaitley and Rajnath Singh to oversee a secret ballot poll of BJP MLAs to elect a new leader. The ballot saw the Yediyurappa confidante Sadananda Gowda emerge victorious leaving the BJP High Command with little option but to install Gowda as the new chief minister.
In between, Yediyurappa left the party to only return and cement his position.
Also read: BJP’s architect, controversy’s child — B.S. Yediyurappa is Karnataka CM for the 4th time
When the BJP Parliamentary Board handed over the command to then Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi to lead the party in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, his first political act was to ensure Yediyurappa’s return to the BJP. Yediyurappa paid back Modi’s faith by bagging 17 Lok Sabha seats from a state then ruled by the Congress. The duo still share an excellent chemistry.
The veteran leader’s third stint as CM lasted a day when despite emerging as the single largest party with 104 seats, the BJP failed to cobble together the required numbers.
With his fourth term set to begin, the veteran leader will have to break a jinx — he has never completed a tenure as CM. He is set for a tedious task due to ambitious rebel MLAs and the wafer-thin majority commanded by BJP in the current assembly. But Yediyurappa has the full backing of PM Modi and there is no strong leader — both in the BJP and outside the party — to challenge his leadership in Karnataka.
Also read: Why a BJP govt in Karnataka could be as unstable as the 14-month Congress-JD(S) alliance