Bengaluru: The BJP created history this week when it won the Krishna Raja Pete (K.R. Pete) seat in south Karnataka.
Located in the sugarbowl district of Mandya, the heartland of the Vokkaligas, the seat is known to be a stronghold of the Janata Dal (Secular), whose leader H.D. Deve Gowda belongs to the community.
For its win, the BJP can thank B.Y. Vijayendra, the younger son of Karnataka Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa who is creating a stir in state politics with his acumen for strategy and organisational skills.
Vijayendra’s elder brother B.S. Raghavendra is a two-term MP from family turf Shivamogga and is known to have a wide appeal in the constituency. But Vijayendra is being groomed as a leader with outreach in Karnataka at large.
In an interview with ThePrint, Vijayendra was self-effacing about his achievement, saying he was simply following in his father’s footsteps to “work for the people of this state”.
“I am not in politics with the intention of building a career,” he added. “Rather, if you see, my father has worked for the people of this state, no matter what position he has been in. My father fought for the cause of the people and brought it to a logical end and I am doing the same.
“The party gave me an opportunity and I am glad I could deliver,” he said.
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‘Cool & composed’
The significance of the BJP’s victory in K.R. Pete can be gauged from the fact that the party has never made inroads in Mandya, which is dominated by the Vokkaligas, the second major caste group of Karnataka after the Lingayats.
The latter are seen to comprise a vote bank for the BJP because Yediyurappa, inarguably the most prominent face of the party in the state, is a Lingayat himself.
Both in 2008 and 2018, when the BJP secured more seats than any other player in the state, the party’s numbers were a result of its support base in northern Karnataka, which is dominated by the Lingayats.
Until now, the contest in southern Karnataka was always between the Congress and the JD(S) — more so in Mandya, where the JD(S) won all the seats in last year’s assembly polls.
In the bypolls held earlier this month, however, Narayan Gowda of the BJP won K.R. Pete after defeating first runner-up B.L. Devaraj of the JD(S) by around 10,000 votes.
Narayan Gowda was one of the 16 rebel MLAs of the Congress and the JD(S) who joined the BJP earlier this year.
When Vijayendra took on the charge for K.R. Pete, a responsibility other BJP leaders were reportedly hesitant to accept, the challenge was clear.
A defeat for Narayan Gowda would have come as a morale booster for JD(S) leader and former chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy, whose government was demolished when the rebels withdrew support.
Vijayendra’s successful campaign didn’t just help the BJP make inroads in the Vokkaliga belt but also sent a message to the party high command that he was a chip off the old block and not just another dynast.
The win, after all, came just over a year after Yediyurappa withdrew Vijayendra from the assembly election race following concerns in the BJP, which frequently attacks rivals for promoting nepotism, about the possible impact of fielding a dynast.
There had been, however, other factors as well, including the BJP’s displeasure at Yediyurappa nominating Vijayendra from an important seat without first acquiring approval from the brass.
One of the contestants from the seat was Yathindra, the son of former chief minister Siddaramaiah, who had represented the constituency since 2008.
Shivamogga-based Dr B.M. Goutham, a former classmate and close friend of Vijayendra, said he had handled the decision very well.
“We were there when Yediyurappaji announced that he is not being given a ticket. He was so cool and composed, he did not show any emotions,” he added. “Rather, he continued to joke and speak jovially like he usually does. We were upset, but he had other plans.”
His father’s son
Unlike his siblings, who completed their education in Shivamogga, Vijayendra grew up mostly in Bengaluru. A law graduate, he is said to own a large slice of the family businesses and is closely involved with the running of their educational institutions.
His political astuteness and willingness to take risks are seen as an inheritance from his father. Yediyurappa, insiders said, identified Vijayendra’s political acumen early on.
This is why Vijayendra, an introvert, was slowly introduced into active politics. Cut to the present, he is said to be the go-to man to get things done in the party.
“He is being groomed to be a national leader as he has the shrewdness to build the party at a much larger level,” said a Mandya-based “admirer” of Vijayendra. “He is able to attract the younger generation who want to see Yediyurappa, but in a younger form.”
Classmates of Vijayendra from school and college days remember him as a popular person and a close observer of his father’s interactions with people. He has also always been cool-headed, they say, and shown leadership.
“Despite being faced with several challenges, he would take it in his stride and learn to find a solution to the problem rather than fret and brood over it,” said Goutham.
“Vijayendra was the captain of our cricket team and he would always lead us, saying we should fight to win,” he added. “When his elder brother Raghavendra contested his college elections, he would take us there to campaign for him.”
Speaking of cricket, Bengaluru-based restaurateur Thiru Kumar, another close friend, recalled Vijayendra’s passion for the sport and his love for Sachin Tendulkar.
“We all wanted to be a part of history when Tendulkar played for the last time at Wankhede. Five of us, including his family, were fortunate enough to watch the ‘God of Cricket’ and cheer for him,” he added.
Finding new ground
Kumar described Vijayendra as a good orator who “grew to be a politician because of his genes”.
“He has always been a low-profile person and tries to interact with people. He has always been a backend operations kind of person for his dad,” he added. “People who would come to meet BSY… would also talk to Vijay. That is because people may not be able to communicate fully with BSY. A good listener, Vijay would try and work out solutions for them.”
V. Anand, a close associate of Vijayendra, said he had “derived a lot of inspiration from BJP chief Amit Shah”.
“He once told me that if he (Shah) can lead the BJP to win in a state like West Bengal, then we all should make efforts to win areas where others think it is impossible,” he added.
Party leaders, including Vijayendra, accept that the BJP did not make serious efforts to make inroads in the region over the last four decades.
“The Old Mysore region has 89 assembly seats, of which 28 are in Bengaluru,” Vijayendra said. “We were content winning just 12-15 seats. But the love and affection that I got in Varuna further pushed me to try and win this bypoll seat.”
Varuna in Mysuru is the seat Vijayendra was supposed to contest from last year.
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