B S Yediyurappa, the BJP man in charge of Karnataka right now, is neck-deep in controversies, but he is still calling the shots because he’s too hot to handle for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
Despite several attempts to destablise him and take control of the party and the government since the BJP came to power in Karnataka in 2019, Yediyurappa continues to wield more power than before. The BJP higher-ups know that any attempt to unsettle him may backfire and cost them dearly. Unless the party is willing to give up on the state of Karnataka, it’s hard for the bosses in Delhi to sack Yediyurappa, who opened the path to south India for the saffron party.
The BJP, however, is fast losing the moral and political ground to rule. With the sex tape scandal already costing a minister his berth and six others taking an injunction from a lower court, the party is rapidly losing the moral fight. To add to it, the Chief Minister has stood by the former water resources minister and prime accused in the sex tape scam, Ramesh Jarkiholi.
On the political front, several corruption cases are pending against the Chief Minister and his family. Prominent among them being the 2012 illegal land denotification case and the charge of luring JDS MLA to defect to BJP by promising money and cabinet berth. These charges have dented the CM’s image in the public eye and evoked dissidence within the party, but Yediyurappa’s detractors are not writing him off yet. Analysts believe that though party insiders are trying to dethrone him, it’s not an easy task and may not come in without hard negotiations.
Ever since the cabinet reshuffle in January, trouble has been brewing for Karnataka Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa. While a tussle within the BJP has kept the CM on his toes, the budgetary allocation for FY 21-22 announced in March further worsened the situation for him. MLAs expressed unhappiness over the lack of funds and the manner in which the funds were allocated for several development projects. Not just his government, even the BJP central leadership came under attack for its ‘dictatorial approach” and attempts to encroach on the state’s autonomy.
While a section of Karnataka BJP leaders feel that Yediyurappa’s exit will pave the way for better governance, the defectors who switched sides from Congress-JDS to the BJP still back him.
A fortnight ago, rebel BJP MLA Basanagouda Patil Yatnal from North Karnataka said that a change of guard in the state was “inevitable” after the elections to five states. Yatnal blamed Yediyurappa for being ‘partial’ to certain MLAs over fund allocation. “The Chief Minister will be changed for sure. If the BJP goes for an election with him, then defeat is guaranteed,” Yatnal had said. The MLA even said Yediyurappa’s exit was essential if BJP has to survive in Karnataka.
In February, Yatnal charged the CM and his son B Y Vijayendra of corruption. Yediyurappa’s supporters asked the party high command to warn the MLA against leveling such accusations. The party issued a show-cause notice to Yatnal soon after.
Yediyurappa’s position as the chief minister has remained safe through all these ups and downs.
On March 31, Karnataka High Court ordered an investigation into the purported audiotape in which Yediyurappa, as the BJP state president, is seen attempting to “buy” JD(S) MLA Naganagouda Kandkur.
On the same day, Kuruba leader and Rural Development Minister K S Eshwarappa, in a five-page letter, wrote to the Governor, re-flagging the CM saying he illegally ‘interfered’ in the affairs of his department. Eshwarappa even complained of the authoritarian approach of the CM.
Will BJP ever sack Yediyurappa?
Prof Muzaffar Azadi, a political analyst in Karnataka, says Eshwarappa’s letter denotes a bigger and deeper malice than what is visible on the surface. Azadi says the timing of the letter is fishy. The RSS may be using Eshwarappa against Yediyurappa to win over caste lines. “The Lingayats reservation is a boiling issue. And, in case they decide to back off if Yediyurappa is rendered powerless, the BJP may need to rely on other caste groups. Eshwarappa, a Kurubas leader, is a force they can depend on,” Azadi says.
Another analyst, Narendra Pani, said MLAs may be making noises but that will not drag the CM down. “They (BJP-RSS) are trying to diminish him and his power so that they can bargain hard over his exit. But he’s not going to succumb to their tactics easily,” Pani said.
For the BJP-RSS it’s also an ideological battle. The current set of MLAs in the party is not completely aligned to the party’s core ‘right’ ideology. Several MLAs, who switched sides from Congress and JDS, share a different thought process. There are several instances where the MLAs, despite being in BJP, said their leader was Siddaramaiah. Besides, even Yediyurappa is not seen as a hardcore Hindutva leader. His cosmopolitan image is topping the BJP from pushing its far-right agenda.
In 2013, Yediyurappa tried to move away from the BJP. The Lingayat leader’s dare-devil act hurt the BJP badly then. Yediyurappa went on to form a new party and ensured the BJP’s defeat in the subsequent election. So, now the BJP cannot easily get rid of Yediyurappa, unless, of course, it wants to give up its domination in Karnataka.
Today, the BJP is in power in Karnataka with 119 seats — seven more than the majority mark. Even if eight MLAs side with Yediyurappa, the party may lose power.
Can the BJP form an alliance with JDS? It may not be possible as Yediyurappa could drag at least 30-35 MLAs to his side, leaving the BJP with no room for talks without him. Yediyurappa himself is not in a position to join hands with JDS, as the combined share might not go beyond 60-70 seats. On the other hand, Congress cannot form a government as it does not have the required numbers.
Many believe the MLAs, who sought votes in the name of Modi may not go behind Yediyurappa as it would cost them a ticket in the next election. “They don’t have the charisma. They might lose. The currency is Modi and not even Yediyurappa,” Azadi adds.
Cashing in on the situation, the Congress party leaders are asking the Centre to sack BSY and demand governor Vajubhai Vala to dismiss the government and recommend President’s rule.
Azadi says the current state of affairs is very confusing and conflicting as nobody is clear about the larger picture. “If they don’t remove Yediyurappa, the Ramesh Jarkiholi sex scandal and corruption cases will bring the party down sooner or later. And If they sack him, the party may lose the state anyway,” Azadi says. So the party may take a cautious approach in showing the exit door to Yediyurappa.