As the Bharatiya Janata Party set the ball rolling to elect a new party president at the national level replacing Amit Shah, the change of guard in Karnataka, too, appears imminent.
B S Yeddyurappa, who turned 76 this year, played dual role—as BJP’s state party president and as opposition leader in Karnataka Assembly. Forced by the Lok Sabha elections and absence of a mass leader within the BJP to replace Yeddyurappa, the party relaxed its unsaid rule of retirement age of 75 for him.
BJP let Yeddyurappa continue as party president despite his three-year-term ending in April. His selection as the party’s unit chief was in the context of his hold on the Lingayat community, a key voter base in Karnataka.
Among the front-runners who are lobbying to replace the Lingayat strongman are former deputy chief minister R Ashoka, former minister Arvind Limbavali and national joint-general secretary (organising) B L Santosh.
While many expected senior leaders like Jagadish Shettar and K S Eshwarappa to take Yeddyurappa’s seat, party sources say they are out of the race.
While the party was worried that a replacement before the LS election would affect the BJP’s prospects, it now seems willing to take a chance to appoint new office-bearers and strengthen the party ahead of the next Assembly elections.
Ashoka, the MLA from Padmanabhanagar remains a strong Vokkaliga leader in the party. Appointing Ashoka could benefit the party in the Old- Mysore region where it is yet to make big dents. Also, he did enjoy the support of the BJP MPs from South Karnataka, which helped him build his image in the Mysore and coastal regions before the Lok Sabha election.
Limbavali, the MLA representing Mahadevpura, is being credited for the party’s success in Telangana where it won 4 of the 17 Lok Sabha seats. He was in-charge of the party for Lok Sabha polls. He could take the mantle forward considering his organisational skills. Besides, Limbavali also enjoys the RSS support and backing from Yeddyurappa.
“It is up to the party high command and we cannot predict who they’d choose finally. Certainly some leaders from the city have worked hard for the party and we are confident that they would reward accordingly,” V S Somanna, a close aide of Ashoka and MLA from Govindarajnagar said.
Many think Eshwarappa, a Kuruba leader, who, the party elevated to challenge Congress’s Siddaramaiah, neither enjoys mass appeal nor Yeddyurappa’s support.
Eshwarappa has been vocal about his differences with Yeddyurappa. After the last Assembly election, he told reporters that the over confidence of the BJP leaders led to the poll debacle. Much against the wishes of Yeddyurappa, he floated the “Sangolli Rayanna Brigade” to counter Siddaramaiah’s AHINDA (minorities, backward classes and Dalits) grouping.
Even as Yeddyurappa accused him of indulging in anti-party activities and threatened action, Eshwarappa questioned the former’s style of functioning.
Speaking to The Federal, Eshwarappa said, “I am not in the race. I was the party president twice before and I think it’s time the party will have to decide on someone young. It is up to the national leaders to select.”
Eshwarappa headed BJP’s Karnataka unit in 1992 and rose to fame when the party increased it tally from four to 40 in the 1994 elections.
Meanwhile, B L Santosh, a silent contender, who could fill into the shoes of late BJP leader Ananth Kumar by acting as a guide to young party members, with his strong RSS background and closeness with the party high command, could emerge as a frontrunner.
Santosh and Limbavali could not be reached for comments.