Even as Karnataka chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa has proclaimed himself to be a “disciplined soldier” of the BJP and expressed willingness to abide by the decision of the high command, there is a sense of disconcertment within the party’s central leadership about its future prospects in the state.
Sources in the party claim that the time has finally come to retire the wily Yediyurappa -- now 78 and well over the age limit of 75 years that the BJP has generally prescribed for leaders to hold public office – who completes two years as the chief minister in his current term on July 26. However, they are wary of what BSY might do that could hurt the party’s chances in the state. A close aide of the CM cautions – “the BJP high command must pray for a happy ending. The situation is extremely delicate.”
Karnataka, being the only southern state where the BJP is in power, is crucial for the party. Having nearly maxed out in the heartland states, Karnataka is the party's only toehold in the south and also the gateway to other states in the region, especially Telangana and Andhra Pradesh.
“One is never too sure about which way BSY will go. He has proven himself to be one of the shrewdest regional leaders, and powerful enough to defy the diktats of the party high command. He is perhaps the only state BJP leader, who does not require its validation. That is the reason why he has been given such a long rope despite all corruption charges. However, the patience in Delhi is running out,” explains a senior BJP leader.
Yediyurappa’s recent meeting with the Lingayat seers was seen as a warning by the central leadership. The Lingayats are a dominant community in Karnataka and account for 17 per cent of population, mostly in the northern part of the state, and have an influence over as many as 100 of the total 224 Assembly seats. Political history of the state is a witness that Lingayats have had a decisive influence over who forms the government.
Yediyurappa’s younger son B.Y. Vijayendra, also the vice president of the party’s state unit, was summoned to the Capital to meet BJP president J.P. Nadda and other senior leaders late on July 23. Sources tell Outlook that the top brass expressed displeasure at the BSY meeting with the Lingayat seers. “His son was also asked to ensure that another scheduled meeting of the seers on July 25 does not turn into another show of strength in support of the chief minister, making things more difficult for the party,” the leader adds.
Though Yediyurappa has been a hard boiled swayamsevak – from the time he was 15-years-old – he has taken his politics beyond Hindutva. He was perhaps among the first ones in the party to realise the importance of a broader coalition, encompassing sections of OBCs and Dalits. He hasn’t just banked on the RSS’ Hindutva and the Lingayat community for support.
Incidentally, Karnataka has been important in the RSS’ scheme of things too with many of its former and present leadership hailing from the state. It is in this southern state they see their ideological goals aligning with political ambitions. Among the present RSS leaders, general secretary Dattatreya Hosabale hails from the state, as does the B.L. Santhosh, who has been loaned to the BJP as national general secretary (organization). Another Kannadiga C.R. Mukund was elevated to the post of joint general secretary in the RSS in the run-up to the 2018 Assembly elections in the state. Late RSS chief K.S. Sudarshan was also a Brahmin from the state. Another late RSS veteran H.V. Seshadri belonged to Karnataka.
Sources claim that among the various contenders to succeed BSY is Santhosh, who harbours political ambitions. The question now plaguing the central BJP leadership is to whether to replace BSY with another Lingayat leader or a non-Lingayat. Till then Yediyurappa is keeping everyone guessing.