BS Yediyurappa and his hold in the BJP
The BJP central leadership tried to develop new leaders but failed so far and have turned to the old warhorse, B S Yediyurappa to ensure they win in the upcoming Assembly elections next year. Pic: PTI

Why BJP top brass ultimately caved in to the 'BSY' factor in Karnataka politics

The BJP central leadership, who has been mulling ways to mollify the restive ‘Raja Huli’ of Karnataka, with the southern state poised for an Assembly election in the next eight months, has finally managed to find a way out.

‘Raja Huli’, which means ‘King Tiger’, a moniker fondly used to refer to the veteran BJP leader, BS Yediyurappa, has bagged a coveted seat in both the BJP’s parliamentary board, the party’s highest decision making authority, and the central election committee, a body that selects candidates in elections. This ‘two birds with one stone’ move has made BSY happy and the Karnataka BJP unit undisturbed.

BL Santosh, the national general secretary continues in the BJP parliamentary board and CEC, and therefore, there are two political leaders from Karnataka in key positions now in the party  in Delhi.

Clearly, the BJP was not in a position to keep BSY in state politics considering his age and health, but, at the same time, they wanted to utilise his hold in the party’s Karnataka unit and among the voters in the state. This move by the top brass will help to keep BSY busy in Delhi, even as they develop next-generation leaders in the state, mainly from the powerful Lingayat community.

Developing new leaders

Basanagouda Patil Yatnal and Aravind Bellad from the Lingayat community are names making the rounds as the new crop of BJP leaders to be groomed in the state.

In this way, the party had hoped to finally move away from BSY’s family politics, which was always criticised inside the party. They had hoped to develop other leaders as the party doesn’t believe in encouraging personality cults. But, this strategy by the BJP central leadership work did not work, as BSY’s hold over the state politics continue to be very strong.

Also read: Karnataka Cabinet rejig soon; Bommai likely to retain CM’s chair

As of now, he will not allow Basanagouda Patil nor Aravind Bellad, who have raised their voice against BSY’s family politics, to get leadership positions in the state. The BJP too is  wary of upsetting him as the caste combinations play a bigger role in Karnataka politics than religion.

A big chunk of Lingayats back the BJP, while the Ahinda (Minorities, Backward Classes and Dalits) normally support Congress and the Vokkaligas are for the JDS. The pro-Hindu wave in the state has helped BJP to some extent but losing some percentage of Lingayat votes may adversely affect the BJP in the coming elections. So, the party knows that a tall Lingayat leader like BSY is a vital factor in the coming elections and has to be kept in good humour.

Party will not commit that mistake again

The BJP party bosses know that a tall Lingayat leader like BSY is a vital factor in the coming elections and has to be kept in good humour

The party is unwilling to commit the same mistake of 2013, when BSY formed his own party and gained a 10 per cent vote share and kept BJP away from forming a government. The BJP managed to muster up just 40 seats at that time. After BSY returned to the party, BJP again crossed the 100 number mark in the next election in 2018.

Indeed, the BJP has been anxious after BSY announced his son, B Y Vijayendra as the party candidate of Shikaripura Assembly constituency as he was retiring from electoral politics. His announcement was a shrewd move to test the waters and see how the central leadership would react.

Later, the party bosses from Delhi called him and he relented and changed his statement saying the party will decide his son’s candidature in the next Assembly elections.

Congress’ Siddaramaiah’s mega birthday bash that attracted huge crowds too made the party bosses nervous about the party’s future in the state. Also, the party is unhappy with Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai who had replaced BSY.

Also read: Siddaramaiah’s bash was huge, now wait for BJP’s events: Yediyurappa

The  leadership of the party’s state president Nalin Kumar Kateel too has not impressed the party bosses and neither the party workers. Especially, after the way the murder of their youth wing leader Praveen Nettaru in Dakshina Kannada district, the party’s bastion, was handled.

The party, at present, cannot seem to find any other leader on par with the party strongman BSY in the state, though they had tried to develop a few leaders like Nalin Kumar. BSY was the one who suggested Bommai as the CM, when the party was keen on bringing a new face, Aravind Bellad. By having a hand in the selection of his successor, the outgoing CM managed to maintain his hold in the party.

BSY tested the waters

BJP, Karnataka, bypolls
Karnataka chief minister BS Yediyurappa has been trying to ensure a bigger role for son BY Vijayendra within the party setup. Photo: ANI/Twitter

A senior state BJP leader told The Federal that BSY hinted to Delhi that he would chalk his own political path if he is neglected. He did that by declaring that he is fielding his second son Vijayendra from Shikaripura. And, now, BSY has established that he is relevant again with the central leadership acknowledging his importance.

At first, the party was not keen to involve BSY in their important meetings and decisions about Karnataka after he was asked to quit as CM. They had wanted to develop other leadership alternatives. BSY bided his time and then played his card by making a grand statement that he was retiring from electoral politics to make way for his second son BY Vijayendra.

Though the party has been developing its Hindu vote bank, it will not help the party to gain power without the Lingayat vote bank, which is still behind BSY. Also, the BJP wants a leader at the helm, who can effectively take on Siddaramaiah and a newly invigorated Congress head-on. The party currently sees BSY as that person.

BSY, who had rejected such ‘Delhi’ offers earlier, including governorship, agreed to take up the invitation as he feels the central leadership has started to listen to him again, as far as Karnataka is concerned.

The BSY factor

The party which recently announced ‘Mission Dakshin’, to gain power in southern states, badly needs to win Karnataka in 2023. The party is in power, not because of achieving a simple majority three years ago, but because of ‘Operation Lotus’ (by attracting the MLAs from Congress and JDS and making them resign from their respective parties to prove a majority in the assembly to achieve power). This master plan was executed by BSY, who helped the BJP to achieve power in Karnataka in 2008.

BSY moved away from the BJP to form his political party, the Karnataka Janata Party (KJP), after he was asked to quit the CM’s post. However, he was arrested in a Lokayukta  case.

In the 2013 Karnataka legislative Assembly elections, the KJP won 8 seats and secured about 10 per cent of the total votes polled and restricted the BJP to just 40 seats. This is compared to the 110 it had won in 2008. Later, the BJP welcomed him back and under his leadership won 104 seats in the 2018 elections.

After BSY hinted that he was unhappy, the party realised they had to do something to pacify him. Sources said that they even thought of making him the party state president again. However, BSY, primarily only wants his son BY Vijayendra to assume a prominent position in the party. He wants to see him as his successor in the state’s political firmament. But, the party is not in a mood to elevate Vijayendra to any position for a while because of the strong objections from party leaders Basanagouda Patil Yatnal, CT Ravi etc.

Also read: No change in CM, Bommai will complete term, asserts Yediyurappa

Vijayendra to contest from home turf?

Finally, it is the behind-the-scenes maneuvering by a shrewd BSY that won him a place in the parliamentary board. The party is said to have accepted BSY’s demand that his son should contest from his home turf Shikaripura. Vijayendra has also proved his mettle through some strategic wins for BJP in the by-elections and it is likely that he will be given prominence in the future.

At the same time, BSY will also be at the helm to guide the party to face the next Assembly elections and challenge Opposition leaders, including Siddaramaiah. Sources said BSY will also be kept in the loop, while deciding the leadership change issue in Karnataka. It is almost confirmed that either the CM will be replaced or the state unit president will be changed soon, said sources. Again, BSY will have a say in the decision, party sources said.

The party is working out whether it should be a Lingayat CM-Vokkaliga president, Vokkaliga CM- Lingayat/ Dalit president formulations in the state.

If the Lingayat community is considered again for the CM post, they may continue with Bommai. Or, look at replacing him with Jagadish Shettar (former CM),Yatnal or Bellad for the same as they all hail from the Lingayat community.

If a Vokkaliga is chosen as state president, CT Ravi or Shobha Karandlaje are likely to be considered. If they go for a Vokkaliga CM, then CT Ravi or Shobha stand a chance, said sources. A member from the Lingayat community then will get a chance to become the president.

And, if at all they think of a Dalit president, Aravind Limbavali’s name is likely to be backed by BSY. On his recent visit to Karnataka, Union home minister Amit Shah turned to BSY to discuss the political situation in Karnataka. Somehow, Karnataka’s King Tiger, the old warhorse always manages to remain the master of his turf.

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