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Karnataka: Is there a hidden message in Yediyurappa's take on alternative leadership?

No question of replacing Yediyurappa, reiterates BJP

16-Yediyurappa B.S. Yediyurappa | Bhanu Prakash Chandra

Amid clamour for leadership change, Karnataka Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa on Sunday stated that he would resign from the post if the BJP high command wanted him to.  "As long as the party high command in Delhi has faith in my leadership, I will continue as the CM. The day they tell me they don't need me, I will resign and start working day and night for the development of the state. I have no confusion in this regard. They have given me an opportunity and I am working hard to make best use of it," said Yediyurappa while speaking to reporters after garlanding the statue of late D. Devaraj Urs in Vidhana Soudha complex.  

The chief minister's statement is being read as an indication that the veteran leader is finally open to change in leadership by some within his party,  but many others believe it is a well-calculated message to Yediyurappa's detractors, supporters and also the party's high command, too.  

When asked about the dearth of alternative leadership and open revolt by C. P.  Yogeshwar and Aravind Bellad, who have been frequenting Delhi allegedly to bid for a leadership change in the state, Yediyurappa said he would not like to comment on anybody. "I don't agree there is no alternative leadership in the state. There will always be alternative leadership at the state and national level. But I will continue as CM as long as the high command has confidence in me," said Yediyurappa, as though driving in the fact that the BJP was still grappling to find the right alternative who could replace the mass leader. 

It is no secret that Yediyurappa is unhappy with the high command's ambiguous stand on his leadership.  On one hand, the central leaders—Karnataka in-charge Arun Singh and state BJP president Nalin Kumar Kateel—have been reiterating that Yediyurappa is the "unanimous" leader of the party and there was no question of replacing him. On the other hand, there is little disciplinary action against Yediyurappa's detractors like Yogeshwar and MLA Basanagouda Patil Yatnal, who are busy speculating over the leadership change. Recently, national general secretary C. T. Ravi attemped to make a veiled attack on Yediyurappa raising questions over his leadership. This has sure upset the Lingayat strongman.  

This time, senior leaders and Yediyurappa supporters rushed to downplay the chief minister's remarks. "Yediyurappa is a unanimous leader and there has been no discussion on any change of leadership in the party forum. However, Yediyurappa, by saying he is bound by the party high command's decision, has become a role model for all the party workers," said Kateel.  

Union Minister Prahlad Joshi reiterated that the party had no intent to replace Yediyurappa. "He is handling the Covid crisis ably.  He might have only responded to a question and has not said he is resigning. He has only indicated he will abide by what the party spells out for him," said Joshi.  

Home Minister Basavaraj Bommai and Revenue minister R. Ashok, who rushed to meet the CM after his press statement, told reporters that the CM was "deeply pained" over the constant speculations over a leadership change in the party. "The CM has been working tirelessly even amid a pandemic. He has announced two economic support packages (worth Rs 1,650 crore). He is preparing to tackle a possible third wave of Covid-19," said Ashok in a bid to legitimise the leadership of Yediyurappa during a health crisis, when his detractors were indulging  in petty politics.

The chief minister, asserting that he enjoys the support of the central leadership, is a clear signal to the dissidents to fall in line as much as it is an effort to win the sympathy of his staunch supporters and people of the state.  

If the party high command's recent move to put in place a coordination committee to bring the state party unit and the government on the same page is any indication, Yediyurappa is sure on a safe wicket. A divided house, a poor report card and leadership tussle that threatens to dent the sizeable Lingayat vote bank of the BJP with an unceremonious exit of the community's tallest leader is certainly not the saffron party's grand plan to go through the crucial assembly elections in 2023. The BJP also fears that the Congress might stand to gain as the odds seem to be piling against the BJP, with drought, floods, and an overstretching pandemic that has impacted both development and governance in the state, besides souring political equations within the ruling party.   

KPCC chief D.K. Shivakumar, the CM-in-waiting would like to believe Yediyurappa's statement is only a strategy to "discipline" the dissidents. "As far as I know Yediyurappa, he is a strong leader and will not yield so easily," said Shivakumar on the possibility of the CM stepping down any time soon.  

The recent meeting of CM's son B. Y. Vijayendra with BJP national president J.P. Nadda in Delhi has led to more speculations over the possibility of a leadership change. The CM and his son might have discussed the trade-offs with the central leadership, say party insiders.

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