Newly-appointed BJP Karnataka chief B S Yeddyurappa on Friday said that in his political career he has tasted many sweet and sour moments, but assuming charge as the party chief in the state is one the sweet moments. The former state chief minister, who was till now discharging his duty as BJP Vice-President, became a frontrunner to assume the charge as the state party president, after the Supreme Court declined to intervene and lift a Karnataka High Court stay on his prosecution in a case under the Prevention of Corruption Act.
In an exclusive interview with Firstpost, the Lingayat leader asserted that his main task would be to uproot the Congress regime from Karnataka.
Q: Mr Yeddyurappa what is the assurance that you have given the party leadership?
Q: You've won a lot of cases filed against you. Was that one of the criteria for your selection?
Q: Have you been assured that you will be the Chief Minister?
Almost six months before the Janata Dal (S) brought down its coalition government in Karnataka with the Congress, a senior leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had made a succinct point about B S Yeddyurappa, the man who has just been appointed president of the state unit of the BJP.
Ved Prakash Goyal had been hurriedly rushed by the central leadership of the BJP to study and ensure there was no split in the party. After waiting for more than 24 hours for Yeddyurappa at a city hotel, a frustrated Goyal decided to call a spade a spade.
He had told this reporter in a television interview : "It appears that this man wants to become chief minister by hook or by crook. He seems to have forgotten all qualms that he learnt in our party and is trying to strike a deal with the Janata Dal(S). He will sink our party and its ideals to become chief minister."
The simplicity of Goyal is evident in his words which turned out, in some ways, to be prophetic. On January 29, 2006, H D Kumaraswamy of the JDS brought down the Dharam Singh ministry and announced the formation of the JDS-BJP coalition government. Yeddyurappa had become the deputy chief minister in the new coalition and the central leadership was caught unawares.
It didn’t know, at least for some time, how to deal with this rebellious man who was brought up in the best traditions of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). But, the fact remains that Goyal’s premonition did not go completely wrong. Yeddyurappa did become chief minister after leading, almost single handedly, the BJP to victory in 2008.
After being named party president for the fifth time in the last three decades, Yeddyurappa’s approach towards attaining his goals in life remain crystal clear. "Naturally, anybody who becomes party president at such a crucial juncture ( two years before the term of the assembly ends) after the election will become the chief minister," he said.
But, is he not going to be 75 by the time elections are held and will he not be pushed into the margadarshak dal like L K Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi ? "Yes, I will be 75 and I will work till I am 85. Our party leadership knows that I am healthy and I am going to tour all over. Age will not be of consideration at all."
What gumption could well be the first reaction of anyone in a party where a diktat from a Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister, or Amit Shah, the party president, is more than adequate to keep leaders on their toes. But, that is the way Yeddyurappa has played his cards all through. That authority comes from the simple fact that there is no other leader in the BJP who has a mass appeal like him.
That mass appeal emanates from his community which is the upper caste group of Lingayats. This is the dominant community in the northern and central districts of the state. In fact, it was this community which backed him even when he had broken away from the BJP to form the Karnataka Janata paksha ( KJP) soon after being removed from chief ministership on charges of corruption.
The KJP cornered a little over 10 per cent of the votes in the 2013 assembly elections. It did not make Yeddyurappa the chief minister or the King maker but it certainly cut the BJP from 120 to 40. It was Modi who again picked on Yeddyurappa and brought him back into the party. He found him a safer bet than his bête noire, Ananth Kumar, union minister for chemicals and fertilizers, who was an Advani protégé.
Once Yeddyurappa returned to the party fold, the BJP won a majority of the Lok Sabha seats in the state. That victory led to the subtle message that Yeddyurappa’s growth needed to be curbed.
"In the last 8 to 10 months, he was going round the state addressing meetings. This was because the other party leaders tried to isolate him. But, he used this adversity to show that he attracted more people than the other party leaders who moved in groups," said a party leader, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Those meetings helped in sending a message to the party’s central leadership that he still attracted crowds and others in the reckoning for that position were no match. "He has been selected because there is no alternative. There are many leaders in the party with a grounding in the RSS. But, Yeddyurappa is different because he built the party," said political scientist, Prof Harish Ramaswamy.
Senior political analyst, Madan Mohan agrees with Prof Ramaswamy on Yeddyurappa’s TINA ( there is no alternative) factor. "It has not been able to replace Yeddyurappa in terms of mass appeal. But the question is can he deliver the goods. He is yet to regain his clean image."
Mohan’s reference is to the charges of corruption that were made against Yeddyurappa particularly in the wake of the Lokayukta, Justice Santosh Hegde’s report on illegal mining of iron ore. The report linked Yeddyurappa’s propensity to denotify land and, in one case, have a deal with a steel making company. But, surprisingly, during the last six years, about 40 cases of de-notification of land and alleged abuse of power have been either quashed or dismissed on various counts.
His lawyers say that there are just three cases currently pending before the high court and the sessions court. They naturally believe that Yeddyurappa will be cleared in the remaining cases, too. So, what better reason can there be for the Modi- Shah combo to anoint him as the state party president. After all, any opposition party needs to begin its work in right earnest now to challenge the Congress in the elections two years from now.
But, how will Yeddyurappa brace up to the challenge from the Ahinda ( acronym for backward classes, minorities and the Dalits) platform that has been nurtured by chief minister Siddaramaiah as the BJP represents largely the interests of the Lingayat community and the JDS is largely based in southern Karnataka where the other major caste group of Vokkaligas is the dominant community.
Said Prof Ramaswamy : "This platform is as old as late Devaraj Urs. Post-Urs, no one has handled the dynamics of the backward classes movement as efficiently as Urs. It is only incidental that Siddaramaiah belongs to the backward classes. Ahinda will not give Siddaramaiah the edge."
Mohan believes otherwise. "The Ahinda platform is a myth that Siddaramaiah gave up soon after becoming the chief minister. That is not the problem for Yeddyurappa. The party has not taken into consideration that it is not caste or community but the aspirations of the young people that matter. In almost every election, there are 30 lakhs of new voters who will not be looking at Yeddyurappa."
As of now, it appears the "past" of Yeddyurappa will be fighting the "present" of Siddaramaiah in the coming two years. But, to a large extent it will also depend upon Yeddyurappa, on one side, and those of his critics within the BJP. Either way, it is bound to give the Congress some sleepless nights because Yeddyurappa is, generally, a restless man until his goal is achieved.