Even before the election process in the five states was completed, the BJP put the party in election gear in Karnataka. The mood in the party on the morrow of the announcement of election results was that if it could make it in a turbulent state like Assam, there’s nothing to indicate it cannot return to power in Karnataka.
The nomination of former chief minister B.S.Yeddyurappa as the president of the state BJP last month should be read in that context. Although a formal announcement is yet to be made, it is apparent that he will head the next BJP government if the party does come to power after Assembly elections in 2018. The JD(S), which is more a party capable of mischief than one to govern the state has already made it known that H.D. Kumaraswamy of “H.D. Deve Gowda & Sons” will be its chief ministerial nominee.
The dismal performance of the Congress in the recent round of Assembly elections and the loss of two major states, Kerala and Assam, has actually come as a godsend for Chief Minister Siddaramaiah. The party can ill-afford to unseat him and Siddaramaiah looks safe for the remaining two years of his term. The next election will be a round robin tournament among Siddaramaiah, Yeddyurappa and Kumaraswamy.
The BJP had no other choice in Karnataka. It is another thing that like the other political parties, the BJP too suffers from the malady of mediocrity among its leaders. The exception might be S.M. Krishna of the Congress, but age — he turned 84 early this month — is against him. There is a dearth of leaders of stature who can appeal to a broad section, especially to the critical educated class and the more discerning among the semi-educated, in the state BJP.
Yeddyurappa’s main rival in the state organisation, H.N.Ananth Kumar, is well entrenched in Delhi as a Union minister. He has so far scored over BSY in ingratiating himself to the national leadership. It is being said that the secret of his success in that regard is Ananth Kumar’s knowledge of Hindi and the fact that he has been an MP since 1996. Yeddyurappa is wanting in both Hindi and English. His fortunes turned for the better only after Narendra Modi became prime minister. On the other hand, Ananth Kumar has been a protégé of L.K.Advani. After his return to the BJP, Yeddyurappa was elected to the Lok Sabha from Shimoga and was appointed a national vice-president of the BJP. The other party leader from Karnataka, D.V. Sadananda Gowda, has his limitations and has been fortunate to be rewarded with the weighty portfolio of Law in the Modi dispensation.
Yeddyurappa replaced Pralhad Joshi, MP from Dharwad North, as the state BJP president. Joshi had done nothing wrong to be replaced. In fact, the party did well in the Lok Sabha elections under his leadership. But unlike Yeddyurappa, Joshi belongs to a numerically small Brahmin caste which, though influential, is withdrawing itself from public affairs. Ananth Kumar, who too is a Brahmin, suffers from the same disadvantage.
It is no secret that the national leadership of the BJP chose Yeddyurappa as he belongs to the numerically strong and politically dominant Lingayat caste. Among other reasons, it was the Lingayat vote, support and patronage which brought the party to power in 2008. The other factors were the appeal of the national leaders of the BJP, particularly A.B.Vajpayee and L.K. Advani. Narendra Modi had not risen high at that time.
The rise of the BJP in Karnataka owes much to the Ramjanmabhoomi movement led by Advani. The party has been on the ascendant since 1991. Otherwise, the BJP and its earlier avatar, the Bharatiya Jan Sangh, were in the waiting list for power in Mysore and later Karnataka since 1952. The BJP had no alternative caste group to rely on. Even today the Vokkaligas have shied away from it. The Lingayats flocked to the BJP after they found themselves unwanted in the Congress and the JD (S). Their entry into the party was via the Congress (O) and the united Janata Dal.
There is a vacuum in political leadership among the Lingayats. It has no leaders of the stature of S.Nijalingappa, H.Siddaveerappa, H.M.Channabasappa, J.B. Mallaradhya, S.R.Bommai or J.H.Patel. It was the bureaucrat-turned-legislator Mallaradhya who protested vehemently when the Devaraj Urs government dropped Lingayats from the list of other backward classes in 1977 acting on the report of the Havanur Commission. Yeddyurappa is the only leader the caste can look upto. However, it would be unfair to dub BSY as a mere Lingayat leader. Nor will it be right to say that an enlightened caste such as the Lingayats will support the BJP merely because it has appointed one of their own as state president. For instance, many influential Lingayat politicians had sided with Indira Gandhi and against Nijalingappa and Veerendra Patil in the years after the Congress split of 1969.
The plus points of Yeddyurappa are that he is a relentless fighter and his grim visage is matched by the same determination to grapple with public causes. He has already promised to rid Karnataka of the Congress (Congress-mukt Karnataka). In the 2013 Assembly elections, when he was heading the Karnataka Janata Party, Yeddyurappa proved that he has a following of his own. That party played the spoilsport for the BJP winning six Assembly seats and ten percent of the votes, enough to dislodge the BJP from power.
However, the formidable negative factors against Yeddyurappa are the corruption charges against him and his ministers when they were at the helm. The worst spoiler for the BJP was Gali Janardhana Reddy of the “Republic of Bellary” and the charges of corruption and illegal export of iron ore. Reddy’s misdeeds and the dust of illegal mining still haunt the BJP. Yeddyurappa continues to be an accused in a few corruption charges, although the High Court of Karnataka has acquitted him in some major cases of denotification of urban land. He had the mortification of tenancy in the Bangalore Central Jail during October-November 2011, although he has not been convicted to this day. A Lokayukta court had remanded him to jail in a land denotification case.
However, what has brightened the prospects of the BJP in the state is that the party is in power at the Centre and has not committed any major wrong so far, the Siddaramaiah government’s casteist approach and the dip in the fortunes of the JD(S). Siddaramaiah is still suffering from AHINDA (minorities, backward classes and Dalits) fixation and has not reached out to other sections of people.The so-called inclusive politics of the Congress isn’t visible in Karnataka today. Narendra Modi, if not Amit Shah, continues to be a crowd and vote-puller in Karnataka, and the people at large might forget and forgive the misdeeds of BJP rule during 2008-13. But BSY should bar the entry of the tainted mine owners from Bellary into the party office and his home.