Yediyurappa Does A Phoenix Yet Again
Karnataka chief minister BS Yediyurappa has quietly proved to the duo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party president and union home minister Amit Shah, that age is only a number and that the concept of Margadarshak Mandal will not be applicable to him.
Fit enough to be relegated to the Mandal at age 76, Yediyurappa has almost single-handedly made the BJP the majority party in the legislative assembly from being the single largest party. He pocketed 12 of the 15 constituencies to which by-elections were held on December 05. Not any different from his 2008 effort before the advent of the Modi-Shah duo at the national level.
“He is unassailable now. They cannot touch him. At least, until he commits some major mistake in the near future,” a senior BJP leader privately admitted in a chat as the results proved that the major caste group of Lingayats had simply gone by Yediyurappa’s call to ‘vote to save my government.’
Strangely, the opportunity for Yediyurappa to appeal to the Lingayats came, not from the BJP but the Congress whose main campaign point had become - Yediyurappa will not be the chief minister on December 09.
It was as brilliant a provocation from the Congress as Mani Shankar Aiyar’s “chaiwallah” comment about Narendra Modi ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha election.
Out of the 15 constituencies, seven are in North Karnataka, where the dominant community are the Lingayats. Even Lingayat candidates put up by the BJP’s opponents simply lost this election.
In constituencies like Athani, where the BJP had fielded a Jain candidate, and in Kagwad, where it had fielded a Maratha, the LIngayats voted for the BJP simply because Yediyurappa had said so and he had to retain power. It is well known that more than any other community, the Lingayats solidly back a chief minister belonging to their community.
This is the second time, in fact, that Yediyurappa has played his cards well to ensure that the BJP moved from the single largest party status to gain a simple majority. In 2008, he had innovated Operation Kamala which entailed the resignations of Congress and JDS MLAs and their re-election as BJP MLAs.
Operation Kamala was applied yet again when the BJP was unable to reach even the 110 figure of 2008 during the May 2018 assembly election. It had secured just 105 and Yediyurappa resigned even before the vote of confidence could take place.
Operation Kamala 4.0 was deployed to ensure that 17 MLAs of the Congress and the JDS resigned to join the BJP, bringing down the JDS-led coalition government with the Congress party. And despite the opposition from the party’s central leadership, Yediyurappa went ahead with Operation Kamala.
But, the surprising element in this by-election is the little more than a toe-hold that the BJP has gained in Mandya district and Chickaballapur districts, the belt where the dominant community are the Vokkaligas and the strong-hold of the JDS. The KR Pete seat in Mandya district and the Chickaballapur seats have been won by comfortable margins.
In fact, the credit for the victory in the KR Pete seat has been given to Yediyurappa’s son, BV Vijendra, who planned the strategy. KR Pete is the taluka where there is a village called Bookanakere which is the first initial in the name of BS Yediyurappa. Decades ago, Yediyurappa was shifted by the RSS to work in Shivamogga district. He will no longer lament that he could get the BJP to power everywhere except in KR Pete.
At least, one Congress leader and party vice president BL Shankar admitted on record that “this election, in a way, is Yediyurappa’s election. People wanted Yediyurappa to continue as the chief minister.”
One of the primary reasons for this continuance in power for Yediyurappa is also the state of the opposition. The Congress and the JDS fielded candidates of their own unlike the Lok Sabha elections where the two had a pre-poll alliance. If the Congress leaders attacked Yediyurappa directly, the JDS leader and former chief minister HD Kumaraswamy sent out mixed signals.
At one stage, he said that his party would ensure that there were no mid-term elections to the assembly while pointing out that his party would not go along with the Congress because its leaders had troubled him a lot after making him the chief minister of the coalition government.
“Both our people and the JDS leaders also contributed to the victory of the BJP candidates. Congress leaders, at one stage, talked of a coalition being formed again with the JDS. We had no leader like the BJP. Who would be the chief minister if we joined hands together was a question that people felt would never be answered whereas on the other side Yediyurappa was already there,” said a Congress leader on condition of anonymity.
The results have clearly shown that the people wanted the BJP to provide stability even though it is well known that by-elections, invariably, bring victory to the ruling party. But, the question is what kind of challenges Yediyurappa will face now that he has ensured that the strength of the party in the assembly has become comfortable and there are still two more seats for which by-elections have to be held.
Two of the MLAs who were disqualified had approached the high court unlike others who went to the Supreme Court.
The BJP’s leadership had decided in July when it formed the government that it would keep 14 slots open to accommodate the disqualified MLAs once they got elected in the by-elections. With 12 of them getting elected now, there are bound to be questions about who fills up the remaining two spots in the ministry.
Which of the loyalists will be accommodated is not really the issue in a party like the BJP in which a little more than 50% come from the RSS background, meaning they will work selflessly.
The question is how many of the others will be denied a place in the sharing-of-the-spoils-system. Dealing with them will be the biggest challenge for Yediyurappa.
Because it is only then that the central leadership will intervene to retire him without hurting the sentiments of the Lingayat community.
Will it wait for the three year and a half years remaining of the term of the current government or will it not is the question that everyone will be watching.