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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 23, New Delhi, May 22, 2021

Change of Chief Minister in Karnataka: Speculations Galore | P. S. Jayaramu

Saturday 22 May 2021

by P. S. Jayaramu

There is speculation again in Karnataka about replacing B. S. Yeddyurappa (BSY as he is known popularly) as the Chief Minister. Needless to say the root cause for all such rumours lies in the fact that the BJP High Command allowed Yediyurappa to become Chief Minister in July 2019 after the fall of the Congress-Janata Dal Coalition Government though he was well past 75 years, breaking its unwritten rule that no person shall hold public office, other than being a member of State Legislature/ Union Parliament after the age of 75. However, the circumstances at that time warranted that BSY be rewarded with the Chief Ministership as he had successfully executed ‘operation Kamala’ to bring down the earlier Government. The fact that under his leadership, the BJP won 25 out of 28 Lok Sabha seats in 2019 and subsequently the by-elections to the State Assembly helped BSY entrench himself in power.

Yet another reason for the frequent rise of the issue of leadership change lies in BSY’s inability to contain factionalism within the Party, with senior leaders like Basanagoud Patil Yatanal frequently opposing his continuance as CM. Yatnal was a Minister of State in the Vajpayee Government and a reasonably powerful leader from the north Karnataka region. What has perhaps added grist to the demand for change of CM is BSY’s inability to wrest the Maski by-election seat recently from the Congress, though BSY succeeded in ensuring the victory of the party candidates in the other two years-elections. Maski was a constituency where Yediyurappa’s son B.S. Vijayendra had supervised the entire by-election process including candidate selection and campaign management. The defeat of the Party candidate is interpreted by Yediyurappa’s detractors as a sign of the weakening of the father-son duo in State Politics. It is pertinent to remember that the Belgaum Lok Sabh by-poll also witnessed a keen contest between the BJP and the Congress Party, with the BJP’s candidate Mrs Mangala Angadi, wife of the late former union minister Suresh Angadi, by a narrow margin of about 8000 votes only.

What has added special meaning to the issue of leadership change is the recent visit to Delhi by Yediyurappa’s trusted Home Minister Basavaraj Bommai and BSY’s son Vijayendra and the discussions they had with the Party President J.P. Nadda and Home Minister Amit Shah. Though Bommai has denied the meeting had anything to do with BSY’s leadership, there are credible reports about the issue having been discussed in the meeting.

Against the background of the above stated developments, it is imperative to look at the issue in the reality of caste politics operating in the State. It is very well known that the Lingayat community, of which Yediyurappa is a long-standing dominant leader, which accounts for about 17 percent of the population of the State, has had an array of strong leaders from within the community who donned the office of Chief Ministership, starting from B. D.Jatti, S. Nijalingappa, Veerendra Patil, S. R. Bommai, J. H. Patel and presently Yediyurappa. The Community has also had a fairly larger share of ministerial positions too in the Council of Ministers since the days of Jatti.

A factor which adds weight to the position of Yediyurappa is the way he worked hard for years to build the BJP in the State from the days of Jan Sangh, along with the late Anantha Kumar, who however confined himself to national politics in his political career. What strengthened BSY’s role in State Politics emanates from the fact that he ensured the first ever formation of the BJP Government in 2008. In his Political career, Yediyurappa has not only established himself as a durable leader but also identified himself with the farmers, taking up their cause while in the Opposition or as Head of the Government, not to forget that he was the first CM to have presented a farmers budget,an idea adopted by many Chief Ministers in the Country. But it must also be recorded that Yeddyurappa is also a controversial leader, mired in cases of corruption and misuse of power. He is perceived as practicising dynastic politics by bringing in his sons into politics, with frequent accusations of his eldest son Vijayendra,Vice President of the Party, becoming a power centre,interfering in the administration and doling out favours to his favourites. The popular view is that the family members by their frequent interferences in the political and governmental affairs of the State have become a liability to Yediyurappa. In fact, this is one of the issues that Yatnal raises frequently.

The speculation about the change of leadership to which a reference was made in the beginning needs to be located in this specific context. Many among Yediyurappa’s loyalists believe that the change of Chief Minister may not happen at a time when the State is facing the severe second wave of the Corona virus pandemic. But there are also some both with in the Government and in the BJP High Command feel the need for a younger, more energetic leader as head of the government to steer the State out of difficult times as health experts are predicting a possible third wave around October-November. There are reports that Yediyurappa too is realising the possibility of his being eased out of office. If we are to believe that the change is round the corner, it may happen by ensuring an honourable exit for Yediyurappa by agreeing to some of his wishes. It may include appointing a person of his choice, as Chief Minister and elivating his son Vijayendra to the position of either Deputy Chief Minister or State Party President. The BJP High Command will be forced to keep in mind the caste factor in deciding on the choice of the Chief Minister, whether to allow the post to be with the powerful Lingayat community by elevating Basavaraj Bommai or another senior leader or elivate a seasoned and experienced Vokkaliga leader like the present Deputy CM Dr.Aswath Narayana to counter the Congress Party which is headed by the Vokkaliga strongman Shiva Kumar. It is also possible that the central leadership of the BJP might spring a surprise, as it does many times, and elivate a leader from the Scheduled Caste background, like the other Deputy Chief Minister Govinda Karajola,(both the DCMs are perceived to be loyal to Yediyurappa) keeping in mind the need for bolstering its position among the disadvantaged groups to face the Assembly elections successfully in 2023. Surely, Karnataka Politics is poised for an interesting phase amidst the raging pandemic.

(Author: Dr. P. S. Jayaramu is former Professor of Political Science, Bangalore University and former Senior Fellow, ICSSR, New Delhi)

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