When BS Yeddyurappa led the BJP to form its first government in south India in Karnataka in May 2008, a BJP activist in Bangalore, in the midst of all the jubilation wondered aloud “how long”. Because just about anyone who has worked with Yeddyurappa in the party is familiar with his mercurial temper. Hence his ability to play an innings lasting five years was always suspect.
For those in doubt, ask Venkaiah Naidu, whose laptop never switched on again, after Yeddyurappa ‘powered’ it !
Therefore it came as no surprise when he was asked to leave the field after three years in office. But Yeddyurappa who displayed all the qualities of a bad loser, wanted to become selector once he was booted out as captain.
He had his way but soon he found out that his choice, ‘Captain’ Sadananda Gowda was not doing his bidding, even as Yeddy spent time trying to stay out of Bangalore central prison. So he sulked, rebelled, shouted and finally got his way, when the BJP agreed to appoint fellow Lingayat Jagdish Shettar as CM. Both times, if Yeddy is to be believed, he was promised the post of Karnataka BJP chief. Now since that is not happening, Yeddy has decided to quit the party he once helped build, and turn political entrepreneur himself.
“The BJP leaders do not want me and I do not want the BJP,” says Yeddyurappa, as he readies for a divorce two months from now.
December is when Yeddy will start his own kirana shop in Karnataka’s political maidan, hoping to give the big players – BJP, Congress and JD(S) – a run for their money. And there is every reason why the ruling party should be worried.
At least half of Shettar’s cabinet owes allegiance to Yeddy and if you take Yeddy’s claims at face value, a significant part of the Hindutva leadership and cadre will shift loyalties to him closer to the elections in May 2013.
Remember, Yeddy’s DNA still remains very saffron and in terms of ideology and core philosophy, there would not be much of a departure from what the BJP stands for. Yeddy’s fallout with the BJP has been primarily over the High command using the likes of Ananth Kumar to poke him and undermine his position in Karnataka and the party.
The LK Advani group in the BJP, in turn, looks at Yeddy as a tainted politician, someone who dents their crusade against corruption at the national level. Yeddy floating a xerox copy of the BJP will only hurt the original, with a significant number of Lingayats, the core votebase of the party, going with Yeddy. The Lingayat community, about 17 per cent of the population, has backed the BJP since the 1990s, mainly thanks to him.
But along with the BJP, Yeddy will play spoiler for the opposition kitty as well. Votes for Yeddy’s men and women will come not just out of the BJP kitty but the manner in which he will eat into the opposition votes will hurt both the Congress and JD(S). He has had a working relationship (or perhaps non-working would be a more appropriate term) with former Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy before, when Yeddy was his deputy. However Deve Gowda and son didn’t honour their word for a role reversal after the stipulated 20 months were over.
Relations between Yeddy and Kumaraswamy haven’t been good since then, but if Karnataka’s voters throw up a hung assembly, the love-hate relationship could well culminate in a second marriage.
But more significant is what has been taking place behind the scenes between Yeddyurappa and the Congress. For some months now, Yeddy has been egged on by some Karnataka Congress leaders to muddy the BJP waters in the state. Yeddy hasn’t performed the hatchet job to perfection but it is still good enough to give the Congress some hope of a comeback.
Since the Congress has consistently attacked Yeddyurappa’s alleged corruption, the two are unlikely to court each other in public. What is likely to take place is constituency-fixing between Yeddyurappa and the Congress and a tie-up after the election results depending on who gets how many seats.
But it isn’t as if everyone in the Congress is on board on this plan. The Congress is a house divided in Karnataka, just like the BJP, and not too many leaders would be happy to join hands with a political freelancer like Yeddyurappa.
But all this may well not happen if Gujarat goes the Narendra Modi way by a thumping majority. Yeddyurappa, whose admiration for Modi is an open secret, may then find it difficult to woo enough BJP-ites to walk out of the party with him. His worst fear would be becoming Karnataka’s Keshubhai Patel.
Yeddyurappa also ought to bear in mind that the BJP rule in Karnataka, thanks significantly to him, has been marked by allegations of corruption, lack of governance, communal skirmishes and moral policing in Mangalore, drought in several districts and the apathy of the political class to the plight of people. For him to be successful at the hustings, it won’t be enough for Yeddy to play only the caste card. His love for the land of Karnataka that has landed him in legal trouble, could be one huge hurdle in returning to power minus the BJP.
What makes Karnataka’s political theatre a political analyst’s nightmare is that just about anyone (barring the Congress and the BJP) can go with each other post-elections. There would certainly be enough political turbulence in the Vidhana Soudha air as the next House ushers in another Act in the natakas in Karnataka.