Process of finding Yediyurappa’s successor has probably begun

Interview/ B.Y. Vijayendra, vice president, Karnataka BJP

28-Vijayendra-and-Yediyurappa Family matters: B.Y. Vijayendra with Yediyurappa | Bhanu Prakash Chandra

The BJP is at a crossroads in Karnataka. There is a simmering leadership crisis and frequent rebellion against Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa, who is still the only mass leader in the party. The spotlight is also on his younger son, B.Y. Vijayendra, nicknamed “Super CM” by the opposition parties and Yediyurappa baiters within the BJP. They allege that he is a parallel power centre in the state, misuses his closeness to Yediyurappa and even side-lines his father at times.

I am keen to contest from a seat that has remained out of bounds for my party. I would like to step out of my father’s shadow.

A law graduate, Vijayendra, 45, entered politics only in 2018; his elder brother B.Y. Raghavendra is a two-time MP from Shimoga.

In an exclusive interview with THE WEEK, Vijayendra shares his anguish of being “wrongly targeted” for being the chief minister’s son, and claims that the allegations against him were the continuation of a political witch-hunt of his family that started during Yediyurappa’s first term as chief minister. Excerpts:

Some leaders of your party have called you “Super CM”.

I am only a protective son. Our family has endured a lot of pain during my father’s first stint as chief minister (2008 to 2011), and I am only trying to shield him from being targeted again. As a son, I wish to see my father retire as a statesman, because he is one.

Whom are you protecting him from?

I have seen how things went horribly wrong in 2011. We were slapped with 38 criminal cases. Barring one—the Rachenahalli land denotification case, which was an oversight—all other cases were frivolous and were meant to weaken Yediyurappa politically. His opponents knew that by breaking him, they could break the BJP.

Some of your party men have levelled allegations of corruption and gross interference in governance matters against you.

All allegations are politically motivated. I have kept silent for too long. The other day, I finally acted and filed a case against a person for misusing my name for extortion. It was only later that I learnt that he was a personal assistant to the minister [B. Sriramulu].

Do you think your father made mistakes in his first stint as chief minister? How did it affect your life?

B.Y. Vijayendra | Bhanu Prakash Chandra B.Y. Vijayendra | Bhanu Prakash Chandra

He always trusted and continues to trust everybody. Maybe he trusted unworthy people. In 2011, after my father was forced to step down, the onus of fighting the legal battles fell on me. I lost 10 years of my prime trying to prove our innocence. However, that phase taught me some good lessons.

Some MLAs allege they have no direct access to the chief minister, and blame you for it.

He is not a first-time chief minister who needs help with the administration. I do not get involved in administrative matters.

The opposition says Yediyurappa’s love for his son will be his undoing.

My father had quit the party but was welcomed back, made the party president and then chief minister. He was chosen to lead the party even after the age of 75. Why would I ruin everything for him and the party?

Have these allegations put you in a spot?

Some people have painted me as the villain as it benefits them politically. Our central leaders have also heard about these allegations. I have apprised them about my position. None of the cases can be proved as there is not an iota of truth in them.

Your father’s opponents say that he is too old and depends on his family to run the government.

[The saying] ‘age is only a number’ holds true in his case. He leads a disciplined life; he is up early and starts meeting people and works long hours. He is never short on energy. He has taken huge risks, travelling to every corner of the state even during the pandemic.

During the recent Belgaum Lok Sabha byelection (following the death of Union minister Suresh Angadi), my father was running a high fever. But he slogged for long hours and held two roadshows. He told me he would not be able to face Modi ji if the party lost the seat. Soon after he returned to Bengaluru, he tested positive for Covid a second time.

Leaders such as B.P. Yatnal, C.P. Yogeshwar and Arvind Bellad have revolted against Yediyurappa. How is the party leadership looking at it?

The party high command has made it clear that Yediyurappa will [complete his] term. The central leadership has also clarified that the party will go to the 2023 assembly elections under his leadership.

Yediyurappa recently said that he would resign the moment the party high command asks him to. Is there a subtext to this?

In 2011, when Yediyurappa ji stepped down, the circumstances were different. But today, he is prepared to step down whenever the party leadership wants him to. The party has given him everything and he is happy with it. At the same time, he understands what is expected of him. Last week, he said that it is his responsibility to bring the party to power in the state with absolute majority.

So, has the crisis in the party ended?

The matter is sorted. Our national general secretary and Karnataka in-charge Arun Singh ji held a series of meetings with the MLAs, ministers, state office bearers and state core committee members to understand the ground realities. All speculations have been put to rest. I anticipate things will go smoothly both in the party and the government from now on.

There are rumours that a compromise—like a Union cabinet berth for Raghavendra—is being worked out before replacing Yediyurappa.

No. Such claims have no substance. Any such trade-off will be insulting to the stature of both the party and a leader like Yediyurappa. He is pained to read such derogatory reports.

When did you decide to take the political plunge?

I am a law graduate and politics just happened to me. I was always aware that a second or third person from the family would never get a ticket in the BJP, which is opposed to dynasty politics. But in 2018, I suddenly felt I should take the plunge and wanted to contest from Varuna (the party did not give him a ticket) to take on the sitting chief minister Siddaramaiah.

Talking of dynasty politics, your elevation as state BJP vice-president has raised questions.

It is an unfair argument. I am neither an MP nor an MLA. I have closely watched the elections since 1999, while helping out my father. In 2008-09, it was the party leadership, and not my father, that gave me the responsibility [of being] Yuva Morcha Bengaluru secretary and then [state] general secretary of the Yuva Morcha. Even today, it is the party that has appointed me as the state vice-president, perhaps taking note of my work in the bypolls. The party won KR Pete (2019) and Sira (2020), which are new territories for the BJP.

How was your experience of handling the byelection in KR Pete in Mandya, Yediyurappa’s native district?

I experienced the magic of connecting with the people. The other political parties seemed to have taken the non-Vokkaliga communities here for granted. For the BJP to succeed, it was important for us to gain the confidence of the people, identify local leadership and deliver on promises of development. Most development in KR Pete happened after Yediyurappa became chief minister. No other card but development will work now. People are fed up with caste-based politics as it is not bringing development.

The party has many chief minister aspirants. Is the party not searching for an alternative leader?

The process has probably already begun. I am confident the central leadership will come out with the right strategy at the right time. Only time will tell who the successor will be. There is nothing wrong if senior leaders want to stake their claim to the chief minister’s post. Leadership is not what you gain through your position but what is earned by virtue of your connection with the people and the cadres.

Are you one of the contenders for the post?

If I claim to be a big leader today, I must be a fool. I have a long way to go.

Speculations about replacing Yediyurappa are bound to upset the Lingayat community, which holds sway in more than 100 assembly seats. Do you fear they might shift their allegiance if the next big Lingayat leader emerges from the Congress?

The entire Lingayat community backs Yediyurappa and the BJP, and it will stay that way. Moreover, the BJP has enough leaders from the community to retain their confidence.

What is stopping the BJP from reaching the magic number of 113 in the assembly elections?

The gap is only 20 to 25 seats (the BJP has 104). We can increase our tally by expanding the party in the Old Mysuru and Kalyana Karnataka regions. The BJP has never taken the Old Mysuru region seriously. If the party could win 18 Lok Sabha seats in West Bengal and 62 seats in Uttar Pradesh, Old Mysuru need not remain a desert for the BJP. Today, I see a golden opportunity to tap into this region. I say this from my experience in KR Pete. We also won Sira for the first time. This proves that people are not averse to the BJP. We have to go closer to the voters.

The Old Mysuru region is the Vokkaliga heartland and a fortress of the Janata Dal (Secular) and the Congress. How confident are you of breaching it?

In Bengaluru city, more than 23 per cent of Vokkaligas vote for the BJP, 60 to 70 per cent for the Congress and 10 per cent for the JD(S). I do not see why Vokkaligas in rural areas would not vote for the BJP. While caste combination plays an important role in politics, development is a good agenda for the BJP to break through in the Old Mysuru region.

Will you be contesting in the 2023 elections?

I am one of the hopefuls. I am keen to contest from a seat that has remained out of bounds for my party. I would like to step out of my father’s shadow.

What do you admire most about your father?

People love simplicity and humbleness. My father’s leadership is a good template for young leaders like me to follow.

What is your equation with your father?

He is a man of few words. Since Raghanna (Raghavendra) is busy in his constituency and I stay in Bengaluru (Vijayendra stays one street away from the chief minister’s official residence), I spend some time with my father every day, joining him on his morning and evening walks. He gives me no advice as he has confidence in his children.

I still cherish the one piece of advice he gave me. In 2008, he was performing puja at home just before taking oath as the chief minister. Our house was filled with people. He told me there would always be a stream of people coming to meet him and if one was to evolve as a leader, he must learn to live among the people, serve them as much as possible.