The Karnataka BJP has not taken any effort to groom a successor to Yeddyurappa, who has a colossal appeal among the masses.
B S Yeddyurappa, the tallest Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader from Karnataka, took a shot earlier this year to become the Chief Minister of the state again. The BJP won the Karnataka elections, but fell short of the majority mark.
Yeddyurappa did stake a claim and became the Chief Minister for a day, before he had to step down as he did not have the numbers on the floor of the House. Yeddyurappa has without a doubt been the most known face in the Karnataka BJP. Many would say that he had single handedly brought the party to power.
The fact of the matter is that the Karnataka BJP is too dependent on Yeddyurappa and there has been no real attempt to find a successor. Although many leaders have emerged in recent times, the BJP, until the 2018 elections, had made it clear that polls would be fought under Yeddyurappa’s leadership.
Owing to the age factor, Yeddyurappa may not contest the 2023 elections in Karnataka, unless there is a snap poll by next year in case the ruling Congress-JD(S) coalition falls. This brings us to the question as to who will succeed Yeddyurappa or take on the mantle in the years to come. Back in 2017, during a rally in Bengaluru, when Union Minister Anant Kumar Hegde got more cheers than Yeddyurappa, he was being seen as a possible candidate who would take on the mantle. With the BJP under Narendra Modi and Amit Shah making the push for younger faces, Hegde, it was believed, would be the CM face in the 2018 Karnataka elections.
However, Hegde’s reach is limited and cannot connect with the voters in every nook and corner of the state, like how Yeddyurappa does. Moreover, Yeddyurappa is a Lingayat, the strongest community in Karnataka, while Hegde is a Brahmin and the vote share of the community is just 3 per cent. Apart from Hegde, there are several other leaders that the BJP has, who could replace Yeddyurappa, but may not be able to fit into his shoes completely as yet. Let us take a look at the second-rung leaders from the Karnataka BJP.
Anant Kumar Hegde: He is a firebrand and dynamic leader, who has also been very controversial. He was elected to the 11th Lok Sabha in 1996 for the first time and has been a five-term MP. He is a very powerful leader in Uttara Kannada and is currently the Skill Development Minister in the Union government.
Hegde has a big following in Uttara Kannada and the rest of the coastal belt, which includes Mangaluru. He also has clout in certain urban pockets such as Bengaluru. However, he is yet to emerge as a leader accepted across the state. Hegde’s USP has been the Hindutva card and he was able to change the party’s fortunes in the coastal belt. In fact, he drew in maximum crowds every time he spoke at a rally.
The coast has always been kind to the BJP and projecting Hegde as the next in command, could well seal the deal for the BJP at least in this region, for a long time.
B L Santhosh: Ahead of the 2018 polls, this was a name that was doing the rounds for the post of CM. He has nurtured big dreams, but has, for long, played a role behind the scenes. He is a well-known name in the RSS circles and is known for his pro-Hindutva image.
He is trusted by Amit Shah and was even entrusted with the job of poll organisational matters. However, his relations with Yeddyurappa have not been something to speak about. If Yeddyurappa has a say in naming his successor, then he is most likely to oppose Santhosh.
Ahead of the polls, there was even talk that Santhosh would be the Yogi Adityanath of Karnataka. However, some of the factors that go against him is that he has been more of a liaison man and has not been a public figure. Moreover, when it comes to the all-important caste dynamics of Karnataka, Santhosh is a Brahmin, a 3 per cent denomination in Karnataka.
B Sriramulu: He was one of the BJP’s trump cards in the recently concluded elections. Unmatched in terms of popularity and during the election campaign, he drew crowds only second to Yeddyurappa. In fact, there was even talk that he could be made the deputy chief minister, if the BJP came to power.
He has risen from the ranks and in 1999, had played a key role in the Sushma Swaraj campaign at Bellary. A strongman from Bellary and a close aide of the Reddy brothers, he has been the go-to man for the BJP. A tall Scheduled Tribes leader, he has managed to rise in popularity not only among his community, but also among others, thanks to his image of a do-gooder. He is young and dynamic and could be a successor to Yeddyurappa.
Shobha Karandlaje: She is said to be Yeddyurappa’s most trusted aide. If Yeddyurappa could have his way, he would not blink to name her as his successor. During the Karnataka elections, she missed out on a ticket as the party had decided not to field sitting MPs. An exception was, however, made for Sriramulu and Yeddyurappa.
She has stuck by Yeddyurappa through thick and thin, and played a very important role in his campaign. She is experienced in politics as well as administration and was lauded for her performance as a Rural Development and Panchayati Raj Minister. In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, she won the Udupi-Chickmagalur seat by a thumping margin of 1.81 lakh votes.
Shobha, however, could face stiff opposition from her party colleagues. She has been accused of using her proximity to Yeddyurappa to call the shots in the party. It may be recalled that the Reddy brothers had called for her axing in 2009 from the ministry and they even managed to have their way.
C T Ravi: He is a leader growing fast within the ranks. His claim to fame was when he raked up the Datta Peeta issue, which many say is the Ram Janmabhoomi issue of Karnataka. He is a firebrand leader, who is very provocative in his speeches.
The top leadership of the BJP trusts him and he was even entrusted with the job of organising the cadre in the state of Tamil Nadu during the 2016 elections. Ravi is popular in several pockets of the state, which includes Chikamagaluru and the coastal belt.
Prathap Simha: A journalist-turned-politician, he is always in the news. The MP from the Mysuru-Kodagu constituency, he is also the president of the Yuva Morcha, BJP, Karnataka.
Simha has a big following among the youth for his hardline Hindutva stance. He has been vocal on controversial issues such as Tipu Jayanti and had even said that Tipu could be a role model only for Islamists. He is 42 years old and clearly has age on his side. Many analysts say he is a leader of the future, but would have to gain some more experience before throwing his hat into the big ring.
The others: There are several other leaders such as R Asoka, Sadananda Gowda and Prahlad Joshi, who nurture ambitions to succeed Yeddyurappa. Gowda was, in fact, made the CM by Yeddyurappa when he had to step down. However, Gowda has not been seen as a mass leader and has a very restricted clout among the voters. Moreover, the fact that his portfolio at the Centre was changed thrice in four years is also something that has gone against him.
R Asoka is a Vokkaliga, a community second only to the Lingayats in terms of vote share in the state. He, too, nurtures ambitions of being the CM. However, his clout is extremely restricted and one could say that does not even spread across southern Karnataka, which is a Vokkaliga stronghold. He is from Bengaluru and has not been able to turn around the party’s fortunes, which fell terribly short in the city.
Prahlad Joshi is a stalwart in the party. When Yeddyurappa quit, he was put in charge of the party. However, he was not able to swing it for the BJP and the results of the 2013 elections is testimony to that. He has a strong Hindutva ideology and was gaining strength within the party, until Yeddyurappa returned in 2014.