Potboiler in Karnataka: In Basavaraj Bommai’s selection, Yediyurappa manages to have a say

Poornima Joshi New Delhi | Updated on July 27, 2021

BS Yediyurappa

Yediyurappa’s community Lingayats constitutes about 17 per cent of Karnataka’s population and influences over 100 Assembly seats

Seers of the various Lingayat mutts have apparently timed B. S. Yediyurappa’s resignation perfectly for his successor to step into the Chief Minister’s office during the Ashaadh-Shravan months when practising Hindus typically avoid auspicious beginnings – marriage, house-warming, new business ventures et al. Beyond these esoteric signals, Yediyurappa’s reported refusal to be consigned to a gubernatorial post and the emotive spectacle of his teary-eyed resignation on Monday indicates that BJP/RSS brass face a tough political challenge as they go about instituting a generational and ideological transition in Karnataka.

And the election by the BJP legislature party late on Tuesday night of a relatively lightweight Yediyurappa protégé, Basavaraj Bommai, means that the Lingayat strongman may have lost the battle in his resignation, but he is aiming to win the war with the BJP central brass led by Yediyurappa’s bete noire  BJP General Secretary (Organisation) B. L. Santosh. Santosh and co would have wanted a younger, more Hindutva-inclined aspirant from the BJP’s stronghold of coastal Karnataka, Hubli-Dharwad and Bengaluru but they have had to settle for a person Yeddyurappa can remote-control.

Karnataka CM Yediyurappa resigns

Yediyurappa’s reluctant resignation means that the RSS is determined to shed the baggage of former socialists, opportunists and pragmatists who have populated the Yeddyurappa cabal and usher in younger, ideologically inclined lot from its cadre base. But they are also careful in not upsetting the applecart entirely as is visible from Bommai’s selection as CM and, before that, the inclusion of his friend Shobha Karandlaaje’s in the Union Cabinet.

Bommai as CM

The selection of the CM has paved the way for the local body and corporation polls which have been pending since the outbreak of Covid-19. The Bruhut Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike elections were last held in 2015 and are now due. Elections for the fourth largest municipal corporation of India generally set the pitch for the Assembly polls as they did in 2015 when the BJP won 100 seats and the Congress and the JD(S) were confined to 76 and 14 seats respectively. A politically active Yediyurappa cannot be ring-fenced unless he himself acquiesces to cooperate with the BJP/RSS’s larger plan to strengthen the organisation and infuse young talent in the party organisation by fielding entirely new candidates as corporators.

Bommai’s selection indicates that the BJP has carefully considered his challenge while resigning. He made it clear that he was going reluctantly and that the Central leadership had treated him badly. “I faced agni pariksha at every step from day one. I was not allowed by our national leaders to expand my Cabinet for two months. When floods hit north Karnataka, I handled the situation alone and then came Covid-19,” Yeddyurappa said, adding, for good measure, “Neither am I aspiring for the Governor’s post nor will I accept if offered. I am not retiring from politics.”

This is cry for rallying his community, the Lingayats, a powerful Shaivite sect that constitutes about 17 per cent of Karnataka’s population and influences over 100 of the State’s 224 Assembly seats. And it has been interpreted as such with the Lingayat seers who have congregated in Bengaluru for the last few days anointing the articulate Dingaleshwar Swamy to declare that Karnataka will “drown in Yediyurappa’s tears”.

For the moment, it seems, the BJP may have pushed an unwilling Yediyurappa into stepping down to avoid a repeat of 2012. Yediyurappa had split the BJP in 2012 to form the Karnataka Janata Paksha (KJP) that won six seats and 9.8 per cent of the vote share in the 2013 that reduced the BJP to 40 seats in the Assembly elections held that year. The BJP has grown since then and a number of younger leaders who are influential in their own pockets has grown.

The BJP has also catered to the subtle fault-lines and cultural differences among the Lingayat sub-sects. However, Yediyurappa is still the tallest, pan-Karnataka leader in the BJP. Besides invoking community pride by his resignation theatrics, he has stoked a sub-national sentiment by referring to his difficulties caused by the “central leaders”. The BJP is in for a tough balancing act in a State known for high-voltage political dramas in the past. For now, Yediyurappa has managed to get his way even in his apparent retreat.



Published on July 27, 2021

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