Karnataka’s CM B S Yediyurappa turns 77 today.
And despite as much opposition within the party as otherwise, he still stands indispensable for the BJP as the number of MLA’s he has given to the party are second only to that of Yogi Adityanath in Uttar Pradesh.
“Bookanakere Siddalingappa Yediyurappa embuvanada nanu...” — these words have played a key role in the politics of Karnataka and the journey of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the southern state.
For, these were the words uttered by the man as he was sworn in as the chief minister of the first BJP government in Karnataka in 2007 at the ripe age of 64.
Tumultuous as it has been, his journey is one that has been lauded by followers and political opponents alike. From being the lone BJP MLA in Karnataka assembly in 1983, to a seven-time MLA and being sworn in as the Chief Minister for the fourth time in 2019, defying the party’s unwritten age bar of 75, B S Yediyurappa is a lesson in politicking. All this in the age of social media jingoism that is peddled as ‘connect’.
For, Yediyurappa, who turns 77 today, is one of the key reasons that the ‘north Indian urban’ BJP has had the backing of the state’s largest community, the Lingayats, and the rural farmers and landed gentry in Karnataka.
Why else would a 76-year-old be the only chief ministerial face that the party can project despite the election being all about ‘riding the Modi wave’?
For it has not been all great going for the Lingayat strongman. It is common knowledge that he has more opposition within the party than otherwise. He was forced to step down from the CM's chair in his previous tenure owing to the corruption charges which since then has made for good fodder for his detractors.
Add to that, the baggage of having broken away from the party, ending a four decade long association to form his own Karnataka Janata Paksha (KJP) in 2012. The party later merged with the BJP but the scars of the 'rebellion' still remain, and were one of the reasons for the Centre to want to 'keep BSY in check'.
Also, there have been very few pan-Karnataka leaders who have had a grassroots worker connect the way this ‘farmer’s son’ has. There are very few leaders who the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh would also not ‘keep in check’.
Dissidence within the party’s internal factions has been a constant in his political career, whether it’s regarding his current chief ministership, his previous tenure as the chief minister or his taking over the reins of the party as the state president in 2016 to prepare for the impending 2018 assembly elections.
His almost ‘autocratic’ approach has always upset the party leaders in the state. The recent instance of a letter by ‘BSY followers’ seeking the grand old man be moved to the margadarshak mandal in a bid to keep the dynastic vibes in check is also an echo of the same.
His family’s ‘objectionable’ involvement in the administrative affairs of the state have been cited as the reason by those who seek to downplay his ‘power’.
But the lack of any other ‘Lingayat’ alternative of his calibre, and the apparent unwillingness within the party to project any of his sons as the next Lingayat leader, are what made him the chief ministerial face, and also why he continues to be the Chief Minister despite bouts of ‘opposition’.
Most Lingayat MLAs in the state too, say sources, admit that it wouldn’t be easy to retain the seats without the big man’s aura, especially in northern and central Karnataka.
Lingayats are numerically the largest community in the state.
After he was elected MP from Shivamogga in 2014, Yediyurappa chose to stay focussed on the state, excusing himself from any central role that he could have demanded. For this was also the last chance he could try to be a full-fledged chief minister.
His letter to Prime Mnister Narendra Modi reads, “ ...at least a few capable leaders must come forward to take the responsibility and work towards strengthening the party in their respective states. As you expressed in general, I voluntarily and wholeheartedly offer my willingness to work towards strengthening the party in Karnataka.”
That was an unsigned note of him being the chief ministerial face, much to the displeasure of fellow and much younger contenders. But what he did next was a recap of how he had managed to gather the stature he has. He hit the streets yet again.
With the Parivarthana Yatre, at 75, BSY took to the streets and toured all 224 constituencies of the state assembly in 75 days, covering over 6,000 kilometres. No doubt the Modi rallies at the fag end of the campaign did add the icing to the cake, but catapulting from 40 to 104 could not have been accomplished riding solely on national merit.
But 104 seats only made BSY the Chief Minister for a few hours before he did an Atal Bihari Vajpayee and chose to sit in opposition instead of proving numbers in the house. But that’s when he began the alleged ‘operation Kamala’ that culminated in the fall of the Janata Dal (Secular)-Congress coalition government making way for BSY to finally become the Chief Minister with a ‘full majority’.
None of his moves were said to have the Centre’s backing, yet he had finally accomplished a ‘comeback’.
There were many reports of how the central leadership was consciously staying away from ‘congratulating’ the ‘victory’. The opposition too left no stone unturned to peddle news of how Delhi wasn’t backing Karnataka nor entertaining its pleas for fund relief.
Even if there is an ounce of truth in any of it, what the BJP has had to deal with in Maharashtra, Jharkhand and Delhi and its non-presence anywhere else in the southern states, sure doesn’t leave it any scope to ignore its only hold in the south.
Prime Minister Modi’s recent addressing of BSY in his home constituency of Varanasi as “Karnataka ke lokpriya Mukhya Mantri, hamare mitr B S Yediyurappaji” at the large gathering of Lingayats at the Veerashaiva Mahakumbh at the Jangamavadi Math says a lot.
After all, Karnataka has given the BJP its highest number of seats (116) in the country this assembly elections too, second to only Yogi Adityanath’s Uttar Pradesh.
As far as replacing him is concerned, the question remains: does the BJP have another Yediyurappa in its kitty?