Bookanakere Siddalingappa Yediyurappa (78), the BJP's popular mascot in Karnataka, stepped down as the chief minister yet again, without completing a full term. In stark contrast to his previous ouster in 2011, following corruption charges, this time, Yediyurappa's exit has been "smooth" and "honourable", just the way the BJP leadership has strategised after fighting the dilemma of political pragmatism and party ideology for long.
In his parting speech, the 78-year-old leader, who painstakingly built the party in the state for nearly five decades, claimed he was resigning "willingly" and "happily" while expressing his gratitude to the party leadership for bending the rules to allow him to occupy the CM's seat despite his age. But a question that continues to intrigue is what caused his premature exit. Was it his age, charges of corruption and nepotism, poor governance, factional politics or the political compulsions of a party to usher in new leadership?
Yediyurappa is no small leader as he is the tallest leader of the party known for his mass appeal and of course his stranglehold on his community, the dominant Lingayats who hold sway in more than 100 out of the 224 assembly seats in Karnataka. He is perhaps the only chief minister who had veto powers over the party leadership in the state matters till recently and before the factional politics began to render his position as the chief minister untenable.
While Yediyurappa's baiters and the rival factions have long existed, it was only after July 2019 that the anti-Yediyurappa faction grew stronger.
Yediyurappa's woes began with "Operation Kamala" that imported 16 rebel MLAs from the JD(S) and Congress into the saffron party to install a BJP government two years back. The preferential treatment being given to the defectors by Yediyurappa, who rewarded them with ministerial berths as plum portfolios, as "promised", rankled the senior leaders and loyal party workers alike.
In January, when Yediyurappa expanded his cabinet, BJP MLA from Vijayapura Basanagouda Patil Yatnal had mocked the CM, saying the BJP had a new quota for blackmailers.
"Earlier the party had preference for party loyalists, caste and district wise quotas. But now, Yediyurappa has come up with a new quota for people who blackmail him with CDs and for those who bribe his son Vijayendra," Yatnal had charged.
SON-RISE AND CORRUPTION
The son-rise in state BJP caused heartburn to Lingayat MLAs as they felt Yediyurappa was trying to project his son B.Y. Vijayendra as his political successor. While, Yediyurappa's elder son B.Y. Raghavendra is the MP from Shivamogga, Vijayendra's growing political ambition made the BJP veterans restless as the party prides itself as a "party of the partyworkers" that shuns dynasty politics. But Vijayendra, who was denied a ticket to contest from Varuna in the 2018 assembly polls (against incumbent chief minister Siddaramaiah's son Dr Yathindra), was elevated as state BJP vice president last July.
A greater resentment was brewing within the state cabinet too, as ministers alleged "interference" in the administration from Yediyurappa's family, especially Vijayendra.
In April this year, RDPR minister K.S. Eshwarappa, who is a Kuruba leader from Yediyurappa's home district of Shivamogga, wrote a letter to the governor complaining against the chief minister. He alleged the CM had been disbursing crores as funds to the legislators from his department without consulting him.
This was just the tip of the iceberg. BJP's Karnataka in-charge Arun Singh, who rushed to the state this June for a firefighting exercise, went back to Delhi with a bundle of complaints from Yediyurappa baiters and some strong evidence indicating corruption and maladministration. BJP MLC H. Vishwanath, who, after his meeting with Singh, told the media that he had raised the issue of Vijayendra’s growing interference in all departments. "Yediyurappa lacks spirit and strength to deliver good administration because of his advancing age. His son interferes with public tenders floated by the government," said Vishwanath.
"Yediyurappa is a good man. But his son Vijayendra has his hands in many things. In the irrigation department, he is floating tenders worth Rs 16,000 crore without the approval from the finance department. The Karnataka BJP has forgotten Modi, and none of the flagship programmes are being implemented by Yediyurappa," Vishwanath had claimed.
Yatnal, a Lingayat leader and a vocal critic of the chief minister, dubbed Vijayendra as the "kingpin in the lobby of government transfers and postings".
Even as the warring factions refused to call truce, the party leadership also asked the leaders to abstain from pubicly criticising each other as it would lower the morale of the party cadres. The opposition was now equipped with enough ammunition to target the BJP.
Leader of the opposition Siddaramaiah dubbed Yediyurappa's son as "Super CM". "Vijayendra, Yediyurappa's grandson Sashidhar Maradi and son-in-law Virupakshappa Maradi, have accepted kickbacks worth Rs 17 crore in a housing project. Yediyurappa used to accept bribe money through cheque, but his son Vijayendra is more advanced as he has taken a bribe of Rs 7.40 crore by RTGS," taunted Siddaramaiah in the Assembly.
The last time the BJP was in power, Yediyurappa had fallen from grace, spent time in jail after being indicted in the illegal mining scam (land denotification) by the Lokayukta. The corruption taint against Yediyurappa and his close coterie of ministers had dealt a body blow to the party. His exit from the party to float Karnataka Janata Party had upset the party electorally too as it was reduced to 40 seats in 2013 assembly polls. This time again, Yediyurappa was falling into the same vortex. The party, in a bid to save itself the blushes, has initiated the change of guard much ahead of the 2023 assembly elections.
According to insiders, the party leadership had summoned Vijayendra and asked him to steer clear of the government affairs. And Vijayendra, who contested all charges of corruption, had to give an assurance to the high command that he would ensure that neither the party nor his father would find themselves in an embarrassing situation due to him.
The widening rift between Yediyurappa and the party high command was palpable from the leadership putting its foot down on several instances to strike out the CM's decisions, be it cabinet expansion nominations to the Upper House of both assembly and Parliament.
A LULL IN GOVERNANCE
The "directionless" administration is what invited the trouble for Yediyurappa, say sources. The BJP legislators too have admitted that the development work in the state has come to a standstill due to paucity of funds. The government sure seemed to be in a lull, even as the state was reeling under drought, floods followed by a pandemic.
When the second wave of the pandemic struck the country, Karnataka endured a shocking saga of suffering, with a sudden spike in cases and fatalities even as an ill-prepared administration failed to provide beds, oxygen and medicines.
When Yediyurappa, in his parting speech, mentioned that it was a "trial by fire" at every step, they were the words from an apologist. This was quite a contrast to his previous stint, when he had quite an impressive report card: the hugely popular Bhagyalakshmi scheme for the girl child, the bicycle scheme for schoolchildren, and the milk subsidy.
THE GENERATIONAL SHIFT
The change of guard in Karnataka is also being seen as a political compulsion of the party to broadbase its suppport and to avoid leadership vacuum.
With the migration of outsiders, the saffron party is facing many dilemmas in Karnataka too. There is ideology versus political pragmatism, old guard versus new blood and traditional votebase versus broad-based support.
In a bid to change the rules of engagement with its state leaders and weaning the party off its dependency on any one community or leader, a change of guard in Karnataka seems sooner than later.
The party is chanting collective leadership, bringing in fresh faces to bring new vigour into the party and drafting young leaders in leadership roles as they would have a longer shelf life and help the party overcome the leadership vacuum.
While Yediyurappa is a crucial link to the Lingayat-centric politics in the state, the party is also aware that there is a dearth of second-rung leadership among the Lingayat or the non-Lingayat leaders in the state who can replace him. But the party seems to be braced for a major rehaul. In fact, the process of broadbasing and grooming new leadership began with the anointment of three deputies: Govind Karjol (68), a dalit leader, Laxman Savadi(59), a Lingayat leader, and Dr C.N. Ashwathnarayan (51), a Vokkaliga, as part of the altered strategy to shift it's Lingayat-centric politics to one that assimilates all castes and communities to achieve a pan-Karnataka party image.
The party high command picking Nalin Kumar Kateel, a Hindutva leader and three-time MP from Dakshina Kannada, as the state party president was to reward the “ordinary party worker” and balance the caste equation as the dominant communities have always controlled crucial posts (Kateel belongs to the small Bunt community).
Will the BJP's big gamble pay off in the 2023 assembly elections is the big question.