In a classic case of the “tail wagging the dog,” Karnataka’s Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa is showing his party’s top leadership in Delhi that he is no pushover.
From the time he returned to power in July aided by a successful poaching operation of legislators from the Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) coalition, Yediyurappa has gone about business the way he wants. None can advice him to the contrary.
He insisted on handing the recent bye-election nominations to the 15 rebel coalition legislators who helped him return as chief minister. Yediyurappa brushed aside dissidence from loyal BJP aspirants, ignored displeasure from his party bosses in Delhi and arm-twisted them into agreeing with his plans. Proving his strategy was right, he ensured at least 12 of the rebels won the bye-elections under the BJP’s umbrella.
Try as they might, attempts by BJP president Amit Shah to cold-shoulder Yediyurappa did not work. Yediyurappa, more than anyone else, was aware that he was operating from a position of strength. In 2011, when Yediyurappa was forced by the BJP to step down as chief minister for his involvement in the Bellary iron ore scam, he broke away from the party taking with him a sizeable section of the electorate. In the elections that followed in 2013, the BJP lost to the Congress with analysts attributing the defeat to the exit of Yediyurappa from the party.
Soon after, Yediyurappa returned to the party but the damage was done. A relieved BJP high command rehabilitated him with all his powers intact.
The overall scenario changed when the BJP came to power at the centre in 2014 with Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the helm. State units including Karnataka to a large extend lost their autonomy with the new central duo of Modi-Shah taking all decisions for their various party units. The Karnataka BJP got its chance to make a comeback in May 2018, but it fell short by eight seats. Yediyurappa, to his shock, found he had lost out owing to an unexpected Congress-JD(S) alliance.
Yediyurappa relentlessly tried to break the alliance, even if the attempts were perceived as being immoral because it fundamentally involved poaching allegedly using the carrot of big bucks and high-profile positions in his ministry.
Interestingly, it was never clear whether he had the unquestioned backing of Modi-Shah. A couple of times Yediyurappa was reportedly pulled up for brazenly attempting to lure rebel legislators to the BJP. But, this did not seem to have had any effect on him.
Finally, Yediyurappa succeeded in breaking the coalition in July this year and coming to power. The issues he is faced with continue, though. Yediyurappa appears to be personally obliged to keep his promises to the rebel legislators. In the recent bye-election, there was an element of tension within the party on whether the rebel legislators who were now official BJP candidates could make it. The successful results consolidated the BJP’s hold over power and in many ways reaffirmed Yediyurappa’a personal standing in the party.
Moreover, the success of his strategy seems to have fetched buckets of freedom for Yediyurappa who is now planning a revamp of his ministry. Already there are demands from loyalist party aspirants to be accommodated. But no. Yediyurappa is reportedly contemplating dropping senior ministers like Jagadish Shettar and Basavaraj Bommai as part of the package to accommodate the rebel legislators who are now his colleagues in the Assembly.
Lest one gets the impression that it is now smooth sailing for Yediyurappa, that is not exactly right. He is under pressure to toe the hardline leadership of the BJP in Delhi on the illegal immigrants issue and the Citizenship Amendment Act. For example, in the recent anti-CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act) protests he had announced ₹10 lakh compensation to those who had been killed in police firing in Mangalore.
A slew of objections from within his party forced him to alter his offer. Now, Yediyurappa says the funds would be released only after an investigation. This, in turn, has caused anguish among the familes of victims as the announcement of an enquiry is viewed as a way to avoid paying any compensation.
Eager to show he is no less hardcore than the BJP top brass, Yediyurappa has said he will consider following Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath’s move to penalise those accused of damaging public property in the ongoing anti-CAA protests.
Yediyurappa, being an experienced player in politics, over the last few months appears to have mastered the art of doing what he intends to do while at the same time making it appear that he is fully with Modi-Shah and their road map.
As for the BJP leadership, Yediyurappa is a tough nut to crack. It is forced to tolerate him as any punitive move could break the party in the state like in 2011. The party under Shah and Modi, going by the examples of UP and Haryana, would like to appoint a more rabid leader in place of Yediyurappa. The choice of a hawkish legislator like Nalin Kateel from Dakshina Kannada as state party chief – clearly showed that moderates are not favoured by the high command.
Yediyurappa is, needless to add, very much pro-Hindutva in his temperament. Yet he is not in the league of UP’s Adityanath, or even Karnataka’s own controversial BJP MP Ananthkumar Hegde.
One can safely conclude that the chief minister will largely have his own way, despite resentment, dissidence or any other negative reaction to his moves from within the BJP. In other words, the proverbial dog has no choice but to put up with its autonomous tail.