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Why Yediyurappa poses a Hobson's choice for BJP in Karnataka

The BJP knows the cost of antagonising Yediyurappa who may be even willing to split the party, as he did when he resigned from the party in 2012, if he is not allowed to have his way 

June 23, 2021 / 11:40 AM IST
Karnataka CM BS Yediyurappa (File image: PTI)

Karnataka CM BS Yediyurappa (File image: PTI)

A Hobson's choice haunts the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) when it comes to finding a successor to BS Yediyurappa, the Chief Minister of Karnataka, the only southern state where the party is in power. The problem for the national party is that it wants to bring in a young leadership, but the septuagenarian Chief Minister has his own plans.

Speculation is that he would want to continue as Chief Minister till the next assembly polls, or is willing to hang up his boots only if he has a way in naming his successor and finding a key role for his son, BY Vijayendra.

The BJP leadership is in no mood to accept Vijayendra as Yediyurappa's successor or in any key role as it would fly in the face of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's frequent assertion that the party does not believe in dynastic politics.

Vijayendra is more than just being the son of Yediyurappa. Vijayendra has been groomed under his father and has emerged as the face of BJP among the Lingayat community, which accounts for 17 percent of Karnataka's population and remains one of the most committed vote bases of the party.

Support of the Lingayat community is crucial for the BJP to remain in power, particularly the support of influential mutt heads who strongly back Yediyurappa and whomever he chooses to be his successor.

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Yediyurappa became Chief Minister in July 2019 after 17 Congress legislators resigned their seats to topple their government due to internal rivalry and feuds with the Janata Dal(Secular).

At 78, Yediyurappa is not in the pink of his health. He cannot possibly lead the BJP to win the 2023 elections.  A younger leader can, perhaps, galvanise the party and the government into winning more voters.

With numerous stories about his government's acts of commission and omission, the party has assessed that it must groom a new set of leaders to face the challenges ahead.

Yet, without the support of Yediyurappa, the task cannot be accomplished. Yediyurappa and the BJP leadership have different plans for the way ahead for the state BJP. Both sides cannot agree on a common name and a future role for Vijayendra.

Of course, the BJP knows the cost of antagonising Yediyurappa who may be even willing to split the party, as he did when he resigned from the party in 2012, if he is not allowed to have his way.

Party insiders in the know of things says that the leadership has also conveyed to him that he should not insist on his son or a close associate, like Shoba Karandlaje, being his successor.

For the time-being, it looks like a tactical retreat though time is running out for the BJP high command to refurbish the party's image to prepare for the 2023 assembly polls.

The BJP's problem is that Yediyurappa's rein has seen the re-emergence of controversies and irregularities that have always been associated with his rule. His cordial ties with Karnataka Congress chief DK Shivakumar too has not gone down well with other BJP leaders.

They point to the fact that Shivakumar has not once criticised Yediyurappa. So far, Shivakumar has confined himself to attacking select BJP ministers and, of course, Modi. Besides, Shivkumar has a running battle with former Chief Minister and Congress leader Siddaramaiah and is in no mood to give the latter's supporters any room in the next state polls.

Yediyurappa's detractors include BJP general secretary BL Santosh who are not very happy that Yediyurappa has been allowed so much freedom at the risk of harming the party's future. On his part, Yediyurappa believes Santosh is masterminding rebellion against him.

The impact of Yediyurappa’s exit from the BJP in 2012 to form the Karnataka Janata Party (KJP), affected the national party’s prospects in the 2013 assembly polls, reducing its tally to 40 seats in a house of 228 legislators.

The KJP did not fare well either. The voter base of both parties got divided, proving the point that both need each other for a victory in Karnataka. Yediyurappa returned to the BJP before the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.

It is not surprising that the party’s state in-charge Arun Singh has ruled out any change in leadership. Recently, he met 58 MLAs to assert that only three MLAs are against Yediyurappa. One of the MLA is Vishwanath who came over from the JD(S) but did not find a place in Yediyurappa’s cabinet.
Shekhar Iyer is former senior associate editor of Hindustan Times and political editor of Deccan Herald. Views are personal.

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