Karnataka CM BS Yediyurappa (File image: PTI)
Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa is facing the heat. He finds himself in a tight spot over the recent sex-scandal involving minister Ramesh Jarkiholi, and lifting of the stay for investigation against him in 'Operation Lotus'.
He has been facing the ire of a section of party MLAs over denial of ministerial berths, charges of authoritarianism and partisanship. Amid growing calls for his removal as Chief Minister, his son, BY Vijayendra, is also accused of running a parallel administration.
The root cause of the problem is that Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MLAs feel they are inadequately represented in the Cabinet. Twelve of the 17 rebel MLAs who defected from the Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular) have been made ministers. This leaves only 21 slots for BJP MLAs in the Cabinet.
Around 15 legislators from Karnataka met the party’s top brass in New Delhi in the first week of February and discussed changes in the functioning of the state government, the need to develop a second rung leadership, among other things.
In March, continuing his tirade against Yediyurappa, rebel BJP MLA Basangouda Patil Yatnal claimed that change of guard in the state was 'inevitable' after the ongoing elections to the five states, as the BJP cannot continue under his leadership.
Rural Development Minister and former Deputy Chief Minister KS Eshwarappa, in late March, in a strongly-worded letter to the Karnataka Governor Vajubhai Vala, accused Yediyurappa of interference by bypassing departmental rules and running an authoritarian administration; this was cause for embarrassment for the BJP. The Congress used the letter to demand the Chief Minister’s resignation.
Vacating the stay on the Operation Lotus case is a setback to Yediyurappa. He is accused of trying to woo JD(S) MLA Naganagouda Kandkur's son Sharanagouda with the promise of money and position in the Cabinet in 2019.
Controversies and corruption allegations are not new to Yediyurappa. In 2011, he was forced to resign as Chief Minister and even spent 25 days in prison after being indicted in a report on illegal mining. The Central Bureau of Investigation acquitted him of all charges in 2016.
However, the constant turmoil within the BJP in Karnataka could potentially damage its prospects in the 2023 assembly elections. In 2023, Yediyurappa would be 80, higher than the unofficial 75 year cut-off for ministers in the BJP.
What stands in Yediyurappa’s favour is his political acumen and his influence among sections of society. He is credited for the BJP’s 2008 win in the state and installing the first-ever BJP government in the south (discounting his seven-day stint as Chief Minister in 2007). He belongs to the influential Lingayat community which accounts for 17 percent of the state population. Lingayats hold influence in North Karnataka, Hyderabad Karnataka and the Old Mumbai region. More than 60 percent have been voting for the BJP because of the Yediyurappa factor.
Another factor which makes Yediyurappa strong is his Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh roots and friends across party lines. It would be unwise for the BJP leadership to antagonise him as he still holds considerable clout and be detrimental to the BJP in Karnataka. He split the state unit in December 2012 forming the Karnataka Janata Paksha (KJP). In the 2013 elections, though the KJP won only six seats and secured 9.8 percent vote share, it restricted BJP to 40 seats. The KJP hurt the BJP in 29 seats.
Many BJP leaders would be of the view that Yediyurappa is jeopardising the BJP’s chances of expanding, and grooming young leaders. With election two years away, the party needs to set its plans in motion. Yediyurappa, aware of these plans, has been pushing for his son’s case. While the party may agree to give him a ticket, the BJP which prides itself on not indulging in dynasty politics, might not agree to pass on the mantle of the state to Vijayendra.
The difficulty for the BJP in Karnataka for the past few years has been in finding a middle path where both the central leadership and Yediyurappa agree. Smooth transition is important for the BJP, if it aims to expand and deepen its roots in Karnataka.