It is now confirmed that Karnataka Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa, who was infected twice by the Corona virus, is battling yet another virus – of the political kind, within his own party. A section of his colleagues in the BJP is plotting his downfall.
Dissension against the chief minister has been the worst-kept secret for several months, yet it remained in the realm of speculation in the absence of an outright removal or a confirmation by someone in authority within the BJP.
On Wednesday, state Revenue Minister and a close associate R Ashoka finally broke the news saying there was an ongoing attempt by a section of ministers and legislators of the BJP to displace Yediyurappa from power.
What this means is that in the middle of a raging Covid pandemic in Karnataka that has taken scores of lives and left the healthcare infrastructure in tatters, a section of the ruling BJP ministers and legislators was busy politicking instead of focusing their energies on organizing relief to the disease-affected.
Minister R Ashoka told reporters that he was “completely focused on the COVID situation”, indicating he did not have much time to focus on the dissidence. A report in the Deccan Herald said Tourism Minister C P Yogeshwar and Hubballi-Dharwad (West) legislator Arvind Bellad visited Delhi twice in two weeks to meet the BJP’s senior leadership on the issue of Yediyurappa’s replacement. Apparently, Union Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi is being touted as the possible successor for Yediyurappa, according to the report.
The visiting ministers received a snub, instead. The BJP high command, including party president J P Nadda and the Karnataka in-charge and national general secretary Arun Singh, reportedly refused to give an appointment to the two rebel ministers, the report said. Already on the backfoot over the complete disarray of the healthcare network in Delhi leading to shortages of oxygen and COVID beds, the central leadership may not have wanted to be seen encouraging the dissidents in Karnataka.
This does not mean that the move to dislodge Yediyurappa has died down. At most, it may be pushed to the backburner in the absence of support from the party leadership in New Delhi at this point in time.
A section of the BJP in Karnataka has been disgruntled almost from the time in July 2019 when Yediyurappa successfully engineered a split in the then ruling Congress-Janata Dal (S) coalition and brought down the government. Having done this, Yediyurappa assumed power after managing a working majority with the help of former members of the coalition.
Though it was the BJP which benefited from the downfall of the Congress-JD(S) coalition, the real victor was Yediyurappa. Once in the chief minister’s seat, Yediyurappa fulfilled his promise to the turncoat-legislators by making almost all of them ministers in his government.
BJP legislators who expected to be inducted into the ministry were upset over being passed over by Yediyurappa. Since then, the chief minister has been the target of dissidence within the party. On a couple of occasions, a BJP dissident legislator Basavaraj Yatnal publicly announced that Yediyurappa’s tenure would end soon, but this was not confirmed by anyone in the state or central leadership. Yatnal, on the contrary, received show-causes notices from the party for his statements.
The moot point is that the sustained attempt to remove Yediyurappa has not yielded any result so far. The reason for this may be that Yediyurappa has proved in the past that he is no pushover. He has a good personal rapport not only with JD(S) leader and former chief minister H D Kumaraswamy but also Congress politicians like D K Shivakumar and Siddaramaiah.
The concern in the BJP is that if Yediyurappa is removed, he could strike an alliance with the Congress-JD(S) and have the last laugh. Yediyurappa already did this once in 2012 when he quit the BJP and formed his own Karnataka Janata Party after being forced to step down as chief minister in the Bellary iron ore scam.
The BJP lost the 2013 elections to the Congress, and the defeat was attributed to Yediyurappa breaking away from the party. The party leadership would not want a repeat of 2013, and hence the reason for not accommodating the demand from the dissidents.
According to some reports, the BJP is trying to persuade Yediyurappa to accept governorship of any state and leave his chair for an individual of the party high command’s choice. They are also said to have promised to take care of his sons B Y Vijayendra and the party’s Lok Sabha member B Y Raghavendra, who are reportedly the interface between the party and their father in Karnataka.
However, there are several imponderables in the moves and counter-moves to unseat Yediyurappa. Among these are the possible consequences and public perception of the BJP among the voters if the exercise turns out to be embarrassingly messy. This, especially at a time when people, including the BJP’s own supporters, are battling to combat the COVID pandemic and fight for survival.