Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa has received high praise across India for his handling of the COVID-19 crisis, but is the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leadership pushing him to political irrelevance? He is getting the occasional pat on the back from the Delhi leadership, but it is also keeping him on tenterhooks.
Karnataka has managed to keep both the positive cases and pandemic deaths remarkably low — thanks to rigorous screening, testing, contact tracing and quarantining of suspected patients. Bengaluru, with 12 million population, has the least number of positive cases and deaths compared to the other metropolitan cities in India.
However, Yediyurappa is not being rewarded in any way and the BJP’s political thinking seems to be on a different track. Yet to complete one year in office in his fourth term as Chief Minister, he is struggling to establish authority. When candidates were being decided for the four Rajya Sabha seats that were vacant, if Yediyurappa expected some help from the party high command to assuage some of the disgruntled elements in the party, he was in for a rude shock.
The Yediyurappa-led state unit recommended three names: Prabhakar Kore, an influential educationist from north Karnataka; Prakash Shetty, an industrialist, and; Ramesh Katti, whose nomination was vital for Yediyurappa to buy peace with the Katti brothers. Ramesh Katti’s elder brother Umesh Katti, an eight-time MLA and former minister, has been breathing fire ever since he was kept out of the Cabinet.
The BJP central leadership, however, ignored Yediyurappa’s the list and nominated two ‘grass-root’ level workers, Ashok Gasti and Eranna Kadadi, both little known beyond their districts.
On June 12, Congress veteran leader Mallikarjun Kharge and Janata Dal (Secular) leader and former Prime Minister HD Deve Gowda — both who lost in the 2019 General Elections — along with the two BJP nominees, were elected unopposed.
It is not the first time the BJP central leadership has snubbed Yediyurappa, especially since he took over as Chief Minister in July.
Yediyurappa was sworn-in in the middle of a crisis triggered by both floods and drought in many parts of the state, and he carried on single-handedly for 25 days as he was not given the go-ahead to expand his Cabinet immediately. When it was done, he had little say in its formation, and was foisted with three deputy chief ministers — Govind Karjol, CN Ashwath Narayan and Laxman Savadi, without his asking.
When it came to selecting the Speaker of the Assembly, Yediyurappa recommended KG Bopaiah, former Speaker, or Suresh Kumar — but the BJP high command chose Vishweshwara Hegde Kageri. Yediyurappa suggested the name of Aravind Limbavali to replace him as state president, but Nalin Kumar Kateel, a lightweight MP from Dakshina Kannada, was selected.
Yediyurappa had promised Cabinet berths to all the defectors in recognition of their help to the BJP to come back to power, but the party agreed to the inclusion of only 10, and rejected the names of BJP veterans Umesh Katti, CP Yogeshwara and Limbavali, who were on Yediyurappa’s list. There are still six vacancies in Yediyurappa’s Cabinet, but the BJP central leadership has shown no urgency to fill it.
Yediyurappa is keen to accommodate AH Vishwanath and MTB Nagaraju, who lost the assembly bye-elections, into the legislative council and make them ministers. It has to be seen if the Chief Minister has his way.
Party insiders believe that former RSS member and national general secretary of the BJP, BL Santosh, who is considered to be close to both Home Minister Amit Shah and BJP President JP Nadda, is the man behind Yediyurappa’s ‘troubles’. It is said that he has a mandate to diminish Yediyurappa’s hold over the Karnataka BJP and find a successor to him.
Yediyurappa is 77-years-old and the BJP is reportedly keen to superannuate him, and install an acceptable leader in his place well before the 2023 assembly polls. So far, neither of the three deputies appear capable of stepping into Yediyurappa’s shoes, nor has the Chief Minister given any indication that he might be ready to step aside.
Observers say that having experienced Yediyurappa’s capability to wreck the party when he was removed as Chief Minister in 2010, the BJP leadership should be wary of pushing him too far. After all, he is the tallest BJP leader south of the Vindhyas.
With a packed schedule of 12 hours a day during the outbreak, he has shown that he has the energy and willingness to work harder than people much younger to him. Many believe that instead of trying to shove him aside rudely, the best option for the BJP would be to co-opt Yediyurappa in the search for his successor and give him a chance to exit honourably.Ramakrishna Upadhya is a senior journalist. Views are personal.