A saying in Kannada aptly describes the love-hate relationship between the BJP and its Karnataka state Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa – likening him to ‘hot ghee (bisi thuppa) that can neither be swallowed or spat out.’
Since Yediyurappa came to power in July 2019 by breaking the elected ruling Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) coalition government, he has been cold-shouldered routinely by the BJP’s top brass in Delhi including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah and the party’s national president J.P. Nadda.
His attempts at ministry formation took over a month to get clearance from the party high command; he was not given an appointment to meet the party bosses and in short was made to sweat it out before he was granted an audience, his choice for the prestigious Bangalore South Lok Sabha constituency was overruled and, at every step, Yediyurappa has been made to feel unwanted by the BJP.
There have been occasional reports of BJP legislators travelling to Delhi with the intention of staging a revolt but that has never come to fruition indicating a certain uncertainty among his detractors, who are unsure of the consequences. More recently, reports attributed charges of corruption against him and his family to the machinations of a section within the BJP.
Politics, as the cliché goes, makes strange bedfellows. Yediyurappa, realising the threat he is under within the BJP, has managed to strike a ‘relationship’ with his partner-turned-rival-turned-friend H.D. Kumaraswamy of the JD(S) who is more supportive of him than the chief minister’s own colleagues in the BJP. In an interview to the Deccan Herald newspaper, Kumaraswamy said, “he was not going soft on the BJP, but on the B.S. Yediyurappa government.”
In September, confirming their close ties, Yediyurappa sanctioned from the government exchequer a high-end Volvo SUV worth ₹60 lakh for the use of JD(S) supremo and former prime minister H.D. Deve Gowda after his election to the Rajya Sabha.
Yediyurappa, by all accounts, was the mastermind behind the legislative coup in Karnataka that brought the BJP to power in the state last year. Logically, the party should have been happy with him but that does not seem to be the case. It’s been problematic for him right through. The latest is the statement by a North Karnataka legislator and former union minister Basanagouda Patil Yatnal who recently told a public meeting that the party high command was waiting to oust Yediyurappa and get another individual in his place.
He was quoted by the local media as saying that Yediyurappa ‘will lose his chair soon and that the Centre was not happy with him.’ Yatnal said Modi was ‘fed up with Yediyurappa.’ It would move to dislodge him after the Bihar elections, he reportedly said. The BJP has denied this but why would a senior legislator like Yatnal shoot his mouth off with such specific details unless there is a move afoot.
The problem for Yediyurappa is his perceived differences with RSS functionary B.L. Santhosh who has for long been eyeing the chief minister’s chair, going by media reports. To Santhosh’s good fortune, the party made him the general secretary (Organisation). This naturally has given him easy access to the party’s power centre in Delhi and worsened Yediyurappa’s position in the state.
The choice of Tejasvi Surya as the surprise choice for the Bangalore South seat in place of Anantha Kumar who died in harness was widely attributed to Santosh’s lobbying in Delhi. Surya is a known party hardliner and has risen sharply in the BJP’s national hierarchy, thanks to Santhosh’s patronage.
Similarly, the appointment of BJP state president Nalin Kateel, another hardliner, was linked to Santhosh’s influence in Delhi.
In simple language, it has basically meant that the cards within the party are stacked against Yediyurappa. But the veteran politician, who crossed 78 recently, is no pushover. In the 2013 Assembly elections, angered at being sacked as chief minister by the party over corruption allegations and a Lokayukta report against him, Yediyurappa broke away from the BJP and formed the Karnataka Janata Party (KJP).
The BJP lost the 2013 elections and enabled the Congress to return to power in the state. Analysts at the time attributed the BJP’s defeat to Yediyurappa’s revolt.
The fact that the party heads in Delhi are slow to act against Yediyurappa is probably because they are not sure how he will react to any move to dislodge him. A mass leader, he has his own personal following within the BJP that he can use to break the party and align with the JD(S) with maybe even the Congress in tow to form a coalition government.
Yediyurappa himself in the last few months has come across as a moderate politician, possibly in an attempt to make himself acceptable to the JD(S) and Congress in case he needs them. On one occasion, during the lockdown, he refused to single out the Muslim community in the Bangalore locality of Padarayanapura when a section of the BJP alleged they were responsible for spreading the disease and attacking local officials during a COVID-related visit to the area.
Yediyurappa made it clear that the attack on local officials was by ‘goondas’ and said no particular community could be held responsible for it.
On another occasion, he reportedly asked the police to go slow on prosecuting participants in a largely Muslim protest against the implementation of the Citizenship Amendment Act.
For the JD(S) and the Congress, whose leaders including former chief minister Siddaramaiah are said to share a cordial relationship with Yediyurappa, the chief minister is a better bet than a hardliner who may replace him as chief minister.
In February this year, Siddaramaiah was the only non-BJP leader on the dais during the celebration of Yediyurappa’s 78th birthday. A report in the New Indian Express quoted him as saying, “Those who struggle to come up can understand people’s problems better. Yediyurappa is one such leader who has reached this position after a struggle.” The report pointed out that not only was Siddaramaiah present on the dais but stayed on throughout the function.
“Our ideologies are different but that is limited to politics. Politics should not come between personal relationships,” Siddaramaiah was quoted as saying.
In this context, it won’t be entirely speculative to say that today there is an unwritten backing from the JD(S)–Congress for Yediyurappa that provides him the hidden support. This particular bonhomie across party lines goes against the highly polarised politics that is trending in India today. It is in fact worth rubbing one’s eye in disbelief.