Every time the BJP in Karnataka faces a crisis, the rift between the RSS camp and the B S Yediyurappa camp in the state Assembly and outside of it only widens. The fresh corruption allegations against the chief Minister and his family members have only strengthened the chorus for Yediyurappa’s removal even as speculations are rife that he will be replaced after the Bihar polls.
That said, BJP leaders are not in a position to antagonise Yediyurappa by calling him corrupt as the 77-year-old still holds the party together amid all the differences within the party. And there’s no easy replacement.
Yediyurappa, his son B Y Vijayendra and his grandon are alleged to have received kickbacks of Rs 17 crore from a construction company for allocating housing projects in the state. Besides, there were also corruption allegations in the procurement of medical equipment and PPE kits during the COVID crisis in the state.
The leader of the opposition Siddaramaiah sought in the state Assembly that Yediyurappa should step down and a judicial inquiry or an SIT probe should be held into the allegations. In response, the Chief Minister said he would retire from politics if an iota of proof emerges to show that he or his family was involved in the alleged scam. He challenged Siddaramaiah to prove the allegations in the court or with Lokayukta or quit his post.
The government raided the Kannada news channel, Power TV, which put out a detailed report on the corruption case. It even forced the channel shut post the raid.
During his previous stint as the Chief Minister, similar corruption charges had brought his downfall and the party faced a debacle in the subsequent state Assembly elections.
This time, the graft charges may force the hands of the central leadership, which has been looking to replace him for long.
After some legislators informally complained about Yediyurappa’s family members’ involvement in the day-to-day affairs of the government and party functioning, the central leadership and B L Santhosh, the party’s national general secretary who’s keeping a close eye on the state politics, are on a lookout for a suitable leader to replace him.
But the power shift is already happening with Santhosh calling the shots in the selection process — from cabinet ministers to bypoll candidates to Rajya Sabha contestants and state representatives in the national team. Things are stacked up against Yediyurappa even as his loyalists feel betrayed as he was helpless in getting them included during cabinet expansion and allocation of portfolios.
In the latest rejig, two of the four partymen from the state selected to the BJP’s new national team — Tejasvi Surya and C T Ravi — are close confidants and loyalists of Santosh and RSS hardliners.
While the CM took a lenient stance on several issues, including not blaming the minority community members during both the CAA protest and after the Tablighi Jamaat congregation and subsequent report of COVID cases in the state, Ravi took a hard stance against the community, embarrassing the CM. He had even questioned the city police for registering complaint against BJP workers making communal posts targeting the Tablighi Jamaat attendees.
Surya is now an MP and also a part of the national team. Yediyurappa had not favoured his candidature for the Lok Sabha seat, but Surya managed to secure it with the influence of RSS and BL Santhosh.
It shows that the RSS’ and Yediyurappa’s priorities in the state are not aligned. The Chief Minister, looking to guard his position, is cosying up to the JD(S) party leaders who hope to benefit if there is a crisis in the BJP. This is evident from the government’s allocation for a car for former prime minister and JD(S) leader H D Deve Gowda’s official purposes that is well above the planned expenditure and JD(S)’s muted reaction to the farm bills and its statement that it agreed with the government on certain parameters, unlike the Congress.
Yediyurappa’s could be getting closer to the JD(S) to either strengthen his camp in case he’s thrown out or it could also be to prove to the central leadership that he is still a kingmaker. But many in party members are mincing no words while demanding the removal of the Lingayat leader.
The central leadership for now seems to be behind him. Last month, before the corruption controversy, which his supporters allege is the handiwork of his rivals within the party, the central team had made a statement saying there were no plans to replace Yediyurappa.