B.S. Yeddyurappa, a former BJP strongman, feels caste and regionalism are more potent forces than Hindutva. Will he go the Keshubhai Patel way?

It is strange but true that while Hindutva is the calling card for the Bharatiya Janata Party nationally as well as in several States, it does not seem to have much of a currency in Karnataka. Here, the politicians’ loyalties are divided on caste lines and when a powerful politician such as former chief minister B.S. Yeddyurappa floats a regional outfit based entirely on the Lingayat vote bank, even as he may want the voters to think otherwise, it clearly shows the extent of the divide along caste lines in the State.

Yeddyurappa follows a long list of former chief ministers in Karnataka who have floated regional parties after rebelling against the party’s central leadership.

The Karnataka Janata Party (KJP) is one such entity, of which Yeddyurappa is its president. Former chief ministers such as the charismatic Ramakrishna Hegde, who floated Lok Shakti, and before him, Devraj Urs who formed Congress (Urs) were cut from the same cloth.

But Yeddyurappa and the Karnataka Janata Party must contend with a history that has been unflattering as far as the performances of previous regional parties at the hustings are considered. Both Lok Shakti as well as Congress (Urs) had to merge themselves with bigger parties after performing poorly at elections.

The former chief minister is, however, unfazed by statistics. A man who didn’t consider floating a regional party till a year ago, now espouses its cause with vehemence.

In an interview with Business Line, he says regional parties are the only way forward for States that have been getting short shrift. “The Centre makes us look like beggars when we seek our share of central funds,” the former chief minister says, agitatedly.

Lingayat vote plank

But a politician isn’t one if he doesn’t have a pragmatic motive underlying every altruistic pronouncement he makes. Yeddyurappa has assiduously cultivated the Lingayat community since the day he turned a politician. Nearly one-fifth of the State’s population consists of Lingayats and hence it constitutes a sizeable vote bank.

He has also consciously promoted the heads of various Lingayat mutts (religious organisations) over a period of time. When he became the chief minister, he went a step further and generously gave away funds from the exchequer to these mutts for their welfare.

Nurturing the Lingayat constituency for a long period of time has paid Yeddyurappa handsome dividends. He has been able to arm-twist the BJP leadership to get what he wanted till it got fed up with him. After being charged with corruption by the Lok Ayukta in the illegal mining case, he was forced out of the chief minister’s post by the party leadership. But Yeddyurappa managed to become the kingmaker in the State party: his candidate, Sadananda Gowda, took over from him and was also evicted because of him. Next, he got a Lingayat leader, Jagdish Shettar, as the new chief minister, but when he too, fell out with him, the central leaders had had enough of Yeddyurappa’s ways.

They tried to make him see reason but Yeddyurappa turned all the more adamant, and that’s when he hit upon the idea of floating a regional party with the stated intention of protecting the rights of the people of Karnataka.

The state BJP and other political parties are hopeful that Yeddyurappa’s KJP will meet the same fate as that of Keshubhai Patel’s GPP during the recent Gujarat elections. But then the dynamics are different here. Yedduyrappa has been able to unite the entire Lingayat community which itself was divided, region-wise. He has also a loyal following in the BJP government, which includes some cabinet ministers. They have also not hesitated to express their support in public to him as was evident at the recent meet of the KJP at Haveri in north Karnataka.

The public support at the party’s formal launch, which attracted over 3 lakh people, should be warning enough for national political parties to take KJP seriously.

Indictment cloud

Yeddyurappa says the State has been given short shrift on issues such as Cauvery river water sharing, or bagging some big projects. “Look at DMK, AIADMK or even TMC. They have always got what they wanted for their State. Karnataka has always lost out in this regard,” says the former chief minister. “We are always generally ignored because we don’t have a regional party of our own.”

If Yeddyurappa goes to the people with this plank, he may still have a chance to win considerable number of seats. But not many believe him completely. His indictment by the Lok Ayukta over the illegal mining issue has not gone down well with the electorate. But his supporters claim that he is more a victim than a wrongdoer.

While Yeddyurappa claims that his party will win a majority and form the next government, party insiders aren’t so confident. They believe that at best it can help Congress to come to power again, if it is not able to do so on its own.

In case BJP comes to power at the Centre during the next general elections and KJP forms the government along with the Congress in the State, Yeddyurappa might still find himself on the wrong side. Therefore, the next two elections will more or less decide the fate of the fledgling party, a bit too soon than what it would like to be comfortable with.

If he is able to give history a miss, Yeddyurappa will be a force to reckon with in the State for a long time to come, which will also permanently redefine political equations in Karnataka.

(This article was published on December 23, 2012)
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