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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 51, New Delhi, December 5, 2020

Yediyurappa phenomenon in Karnataka politics | P S Jayaramu

Saturday 5 December 2020

by P. S. Jayaramu *

Chief minister B. S. Yediyurappa, (popularly known as BSY) is very much in the news. Firstly for his decision to set up the Maratha Development Authority, which has not only led to strong condemnations by Kannada organisations but also led to the lingayat, Vokkaliga, Kuruba and other communities demanding similar Development Authorities for their betterment. Secondly, the demand of new entrants as well as old timers in the Party for ministerial positions. He also faces the displeasure of some of the politicians who deserted their parties-Congress and JD(S) in 2019- to help him form the Government for not yet been rewarded with ministerial positions. Demand for replacing Yediyurappa as Cheif minister is also doing rounds within the Party and at the level of the High Command, while those loyal to him strongly argue for his continuance in office for the reminder of the term of the Legislature. In this context, it is appropriate to analyse the phenomenon of Yediyurappa in Karnataka politics.

BSY was closely associated with the RSS from his student days. He was the Scretary of the Shikaripur( his home town)Unit of the RSS during 1970-72, only to be promoted as President of the Unit following his formal entry in to the Jana Sangh. He was imprisoned during the Emergency and was lodged in Bellary and Shimoga jails. Yediyurappa was first elected to the Karnataka Legislative Assembly in 1983 from Shikharipur Constituency and since then he has never looked back, barring the 1999 election which he lost, but was however nominated to the Council. He was the Leader of the Opposition in the1999 and 2004 Assembles, during which time he established himself as a strong leader by taking up the cause of farmers.

Yediyurappa came to occupy the post of Deputy Chief Minister in the Coalition Government that the BJP formed in association with the JD(S) following the fall of Dharam Singh led Congress JD(S) Coalition Government in 2007, with H D Kumaraswamy as Cheif Minister. But with Kumaraswamy not honouring his promise of passing on the Cheif ministership to Yediyurappa as per the 20:20 agreement, the BJP walked out of the Government. The 2008 Assembly elections resulted in the historic victory of the BJP under the leadership of Yediyurappa. He presented the first ever Agricultural budget as Cheif Minister as a demonstration of his concern for farmers. However, his term as CM ended following the indictment by the then Lok Ayukta Justice Santosh Hegde in the illegal mining case, which also saw BSY being jailed for three weeks. He was however acquitted by the High Court subsequently. Unable to stomach the humiliation heaped by the High Command which sought his resignation , Yediyurappa left the BJP and formed the Karnataka Janata Party ( KJP) in November 2012, only to return to the Party fold ( a ghar wapsi) in January 2014. He was reappointed as President of the BJP in 2016.

In the 2018 Assembly elections, BJP won 104 seats and Yediyurappa took oath as Cheif Minister hoping to cobble up a majority but resigned before the trust vote realising that the numbers were not on his side. The Congress-JD(S) Coalition Government which assumed office subsequently fell a year later following differences between the Coalition partners and the infamous Operation Kamala, engineered by Yediyurappa with the tacit support of the Hign Command. 17 MLAs, belonging to the Congress and JD(S) joined the BJP. With the House strength reduced, Yediyurappa formed the Government and susequentluy ensured the victory of the newly joined members in the by-elections and there by ensured the stability of his Government. Yediyurappa brought those who lost the elections to the Upper House. Many among them were accommodated as ministers . What we are witnessing currently is the spectra of the remaining new entrants and the old timers pressurising BSY, through the High Command, to take them into the Government in the upcoming Cabinet expansion/ reorganisation.

While Yediyurappa has undoubtedly been a controversial leader with accusations of his younger son wielding undue power, it cannot be denied that he is still a powerful leader in the Party with large scale support from within his dominant lingayat community. The fact that he ensured the success of the new entrants to the Party in the by-elections in 2019, the Loksabha elections in 2019 and the two by-elections held recently in R R Nagar and Sira where the Party candidates in earlier elections were losing deposits, underlines the political utility of Yediyurappa to the Party and the High Command.

That he has also ensured the broadening and deepening of the Party base by getting the full support of his Vokkaliga colleagues like R. Ashok and the deputy CM Aswathnarayana who have in turn mobilised the community votes to the Party candidates during the by-elections further establishes Yediyurappa’s utility to the Party. BSY has also succeeded in enlisting the support of the SC, ST and OBC groups by accommodating leaders from within these communities in the Legislature and the Council of Minsiters, which also goes to explain his style of political management . If we add to the above Yediyurappa’s mass base as a tall leader of the lingayat community and that of farmers, which he has cultivated assiduously by projecting a pan Karnataka image, it becomes clear that it is not going to be easy for the BJP High Command to replace him as Cheif Miinister. Ironically, it is for these very reasons, coupled with its unwritten rule that people above 75 years shall not hold official positions, the BJP High Command may think of replacing Yediyurappa at an appropriate time in future. Given his stature and hold over the State unit of the Party, the political transition may have to be brought about with the full consent of Yeddyurappa by accommodating some of his loyalists in Party positions and the Government and he himself being appointed as Governor of a State of his choice. Tamil Nadu, and Telangana where BJP is trying to expand its foothold may be of some given his vast political experience at the State level.

(The author is former Professor of Political Science, Bangalore University and former Senior Fellow, ICSSR, New Delhi)

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