In Karnataka, BJP Needs To Worry More About Party Leadership Than CM Candidates
While media speculations list out more than half a dozen names to replace B S Yediyurappa as Karnataka's Chief Minister, the absence of an equally powerful cadre backed grassroot leader in the state may be what the party should now begin to really worry about.
Come 25 July, as the BJP government completes two years of being in power in Karnataka, there will probably be a change of leadership. The state's tallest standing leader B S Yediyurappa may gracefully exit the top post.
Given his tone in recent days, one can see a Yediyurappa who has made peace with what is to come. This even as various seers from the Lingayat community - the largest vote bank of the party - among others have been expressing their displeasure over the proposed change,
Before he could chair the cabinet meeting this afternoon(that is on as we speak), he addressed media persons outside Vidhana Soudha in Bengaluru. And as if oblivious to the particulars of the hustle-bustle around his chair in the last 72 hours, he said 'he had no inkling of who he was to hand over the mantle to' and that he would await 'party orders on 25 July'.
He added that he would be on-road inspection duties in the capital city tomorrow and perform his duties until the last hour in power. But more importantly, he stressed the fact that if he were to be devoid of the duties of a CM, he would still spend the next ten odd years to bring the party back to power.
And there lies the crux that is being conveniently ignored by all those speculating who the next chief minister will be. That the CM can, by all means, be replaced, but who will replace the leader that is Yediyurappa.
When Yediyurappa took over as the CM, he gave up a more powerful role. A role he had earned purely on the merit of him having crafted the party from a one-MLA almost non-existent 'Hindi' land party to that of 'pro-farmer grassroot connected' organic Karnataka party, of-course backed by the strength of the Sangh.
From his plunge into public life as Karyavaha (Secretary) of the Sangh's Shikaripur unit in 1970 to managing to wrestle the party back into power in 2018, the grand old man's USP has been his people connect and organisational capabilities as a grassroots leader. From his initial days of leading pro-labour movements fighting for agricultural labourers, to managing to get opposition party leaders to defect and rake in the majority for the BJP in 2018, he has earned his following and his team. And this has been possible with the 'raita nayaka' farmer's leader image and the pro-people narrative he had managed to weave in the state.
The caste solidarity was a much later phenomenon what with the community feeling abandoned by the Congress that let go of its Lingayat leader, leading to a shift in loyalties. Also, the community forms less than 20 per cent of the vote bank of the state.
He became the party president for the first time in 1988, five years after he was first elected to the lower house of the Karnataka Legislature in 1983 - the party's maiden seat back then. And he stayed the President for a good decade and a half almost until 2003, when he then was appointed the leader of the Opposition party handing over the Party President post to Anant Kumar. And in these 15 years, the party grew from a one-seat party to be the single largest party with 79 seats in 2004.
Even after his defection on being 'ill-treated by the party' when he formed his own, when it came to fighting the 2018 elections, BSY was 'brought back into the party fold' and made state party president once again, which had him tour the length and breadth of the state and win the party seats just nine short out of a majority.
And it is this side of the stalwart statesman that the party needs to find an heir to. How many such 'influential' leaders has the party been able to carve in the last decade when the national engine has been a strong force driving votes in the country?
The southern dynamics are different from the north, and a conscious attempt to keep the dynamics solely 'Centre' driven in this part of the country had failed even during the era of Indira Gandhi.
What the party risks with the exit of BSY is not just the vote bank shift but also the party internal and organisational disbursement. There sure have been anti-BSY camps within the state unit, but none have failed to raise a leader worth beating the grand old man at his strengths.
The current state party President Nalin Kumar Kateel, is yet to prove his mettle given that he hasn't yet had any elections - local or otherwise - ever since he was handed the responsibility. While in his favour he has the fact that he is a three-time MP, the odds against him are that he too isn't a leader who has a connect pan Karnataka and as per certain section of workers, the para-trooping of a leader from the coast where the party wins on accord of Hindutva and communal hyper-sensitivity and party loyalty that is traced to the strength of the Sangh forces doesn't make the cut.
Kateel has been portraying the 'humble Karyakarta' to whom the top party leadership has been 'generous' enough to appoint to the top post. In contrast, BSY was always his own man - he has gathered his people and his seats. For even in non-Lingayat pockets, it was the pro-farmer image that worked in BSY's favour, while Kateel cant claim such legacy as his profile has predominantly been limited to the coast - where again his rise has been, say his critics, owing to the lack of a strong opposition.
And add to it the recent leak of a fake audio tape that has allegedly the state president predicting the change of leadership and that it would all be 'our guys', with certain senior leaders being named as those that will be shown the door, is only going to widen the already existing rifts within the party. Although an enquiry has been sought and investigations may also back Kateel's claims of it being doctored, the leadership change, if it were to reflect the contents of the tape, will have a bearing on its perception in cadre memory.
Also, in the entire political hoo-ha that has taken the state by storm, the state party President has been conspicuous by his absence. Not much has been heard from him on the same. His trip to Delhi, which was scheduled on Monday, was said to be postponed by a day with the audio-leak drama, but since then too, he hasn't been saying anything significant about the issue.
Local body elections held in May this year saw the BJP fare badly. Of the ten which went to elections on 27 April 2021, the party won just one. As per reports, in these ten ULBS, there were a total of 266 seats. Of these, Congress won 119, JDS won 67, while BJP managed only 54.
From handling defector MLA's who trusted BSY's ministerial assurances and jumped fences, to addressing issues of caste-based vote banks that each need to be re-cultivated by raising strong leaders who can put up a united front, to cajoling the miffed party cadre that hasn't appreciated the inclusion of the defectors and has been floating the 'original versus migrant party workers' sentiment, the upcoming Zilla panchayat/taluk panchayat elections, the BBMP polls and the state elections in 2023 - a myriad of issues that the party needs to focus its energies on. For which, as much as the CM face, it needs to project a strong organisational leadership.
Else, though the remnants of a Modi wave manage to win the party its secure seats, the dynamics are bound to change in the years to come and may cost the BJP its only state in the south.
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