BS Yeddyurappa is the new BJP chief in Karnataka. And, thus, old political equations are set to undergo quite a few changes. This can once again bring old caste loyalties back to play, posing a new challenge before the Congress Chief Minister S Siddaramaiah, writes Vijay Grover from Bengaluru
Ever since the ‘Return of Yeddyurappa’ to the centre-stage of Karnataka politics, the State is bustling with activity. Political realignments are thought to be on the cards not just in the BJP’s State unit but also other political parties have got busy strategising as how to gear up for the 2018 polls under the changed circumstances.
A flutter has been created by the grand arrival of Yeddyurappa as State president of BJP to Bengaluru. And his taking charge on 14th April is slated to be a grand affair. The message that his cohorts want to send to the people of the State is that Yeddyurappa is BJP’s ‘Natural Choice’ for the post of Chief Minister of Karnataka in 2018.
It is the vote catching potential of the tallest Lingayat figure in Karnataka politics which tipped the scales in his favour. The Yeddyurappa camp in the BJP was overjoyed that Ugadi, or Kannada New Year Day, brought such a good news for them. The Lingayats (Shaivites) a formidable caste in the State had emerged as a crucial power block during Yeddyurappa’s rule. However, after his ouster the mood has been downcast not only among his supporters but also through the party ranks. Now the same section of the Lingayat leaders seems relieved since Yeddyurappa is at the helm of affairs once again. This is Yeddyurappa’s fourth stint as the party president and many acknowledge that it was his perseverance and foresight which gave the BJP a strong foothold in the Southern State.
The expectations from Yeddyurappa are quite high as his party pins the hope to repeat the record performance of 2008 that brought the BJP to power in Karnataka and helped it to step in Deccan politics, courtesy Yeddyurappa. This was the first time when a BJP Government was formed anywhere South of Nagpur.
This time, however, the task is bigger and more daunting. His brief seems to be clear from the BJP higher ups and it is to stop Congress in its tracks and move ahead. Karnataka is the only State that the Congress has in its kitty apart from poll bound Kerala in the South. The Lingayats in 2008 had rallied behind Yeddyurappa, catapulting him to power. But much has changed ever since. Yeddyurappa who had the advantage of being a spirited fighter in 2008 today carries a tarred image. Justice Santosh Hegde as Lokayukta came up with a report that accused Yeddyurappa of being involved in several cases of denotifying land in Bengaluru and turning a blind eye to rampant illegal mining of prized iron ore in the State. This many feel will be a major drawback for him this time around. “The people of Karnataka have not forgotten the rampant looting of natural resources and national wealth. While Yeddyurappa may have been lucky to escape court’s axe using technicalities in the law, we must note that he has not got a clean chit and the people of the State will not give corruption a second chance,” says Prithvi Reddy, the convener of Aam Aadmi Party in the State.
Another big worry for Yeddyurappa is the emergence of various power blocks within the State BJP unit in the last few years. As the tussle within the BJP to replace Prahlad Joshi as the State party president has been going on for longtime, the other aspirants for the post including R Ashoka, a strong Vokkaliga leader, and CT Ravi, an OBC leader, had been presenting their case with lot of fervor. Former Deputy Chief Minister Ashoka despite being a strong Vokkaliga leader may not be able to get his caste back to the BJP fully, say party insiders.
The divide within the BJP can be seen at the ‘Jaganath Bhavan’ as Yeddyurappa’s detractors have already flagged concerns about his working style. Yeddyurappa has been known to work independently. According to sources, Yeddyurappa has been advised to keep the other senior leaders in the loop on his plans and also consult them regularly. “Yeddyurappa has been specifically told to keep his family members away and also ensure that the coterie around him follows party discipline” said a senior party leader while speaking to Policy Pulse about the possibilities thrown by Yeddyurappa’s ascent in the party.
The fall out of a Lingayat’s rise to the top BJP post in the State has frayed the caste matrix of Karnataka. The other major dominant caste the Vokkaligas may now well look to other parties. While the Vokkaliga community has usually rallied behind the Deve Gowda-led Janata Dal (Secular), the fact that it could not make a serious bid for power in the last decade has made them to look for alternatives.
The term of the present KPCC President Dr G Parameshawara ended two months back , but 10 Janpath in New Delhi is yet to give a nod for a change of guards vis-à-vis the stewardship of the Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee . The pressure has been mounting from various sections to appoint a Vokkaliga leader as the KPCC president. Congress apprehends that the Lingayats may rally behind Yeddyurappa in 2018. So a Vokkaliga president at KPCC may help to bring Gowda votes to the Congress.
The opinion is building in favour of S M Krishna protégé’ and present Energy Minister DK Shivakumar. The relatively young Shivakumar on coming at the helm may ensure that Vokkaligas, who constitute over 17 percent votes in the State, may desert the Deve Gowda family to ensure that they hold the key to Vidhan Soudha or State Assembly. It has been over 8 years since a Vokkaliga was Chief Minister of the State. This can be a factor which may prompt the community to adopt a united approach.
The weighing of caste options may also trigger a chain reaction in politics. Every party is doing its own SWOT, or Strength, Weakness, Opportunities and Threats, analysis. But Yeddyurappa is keeping his cards close to the chest while gearing up to focus on drought related farmers’ issues. Even Chief Minister S Siddaramiah who is likely to face scathing attacks by Yeddyurappa in the days to come seems to be silently weighing ways to face the upcoming situation. Yeddyurappa’s rise has taken place on the rival side at a time when a rebellion is brewing in Chief Minister’s party. This may escalate as embarrassment over drought is posed with renewed vigour by the BJP.
The big challenge before Yeddyurappa is boosting the sagging morale of the BJP State unit which did not see much action on the ground for last three years or so as he was busy tackling corruption cases against him. While Yeddyurappa has been lucky that 14 FIRs against him filed by the Lokayukta were not only quashed, but also the High court has restrained the police from filing fresh FIRs against him on the basis of CAG (Comptroller and Auditor General) report. There are still some cases pending against him and many of his erstwhile Cabinet colleagues which the Congress can use as a weapon to challenge him and his party peers.
Yet, the Siddaramaiah-led Congress Government cannot expect to go scot free anymore. Yeddyurappa with his base primarily spread over rural Karnataka would try to give drought-hit-and-suicide-prone farmers the much needed voice.