In July 2019, the BJP managed to form the government in Karnataka and BS Yediyurappa became chief minister for the fourth time. Yet, the party's central leadership was wary of endorsing the ascent of the party's poster boy from Karnataka. When the 14-month old Congress-JD(S) coalition government bit the dust, the BJP's central leadership including Prime Minister Narendra Modi feared a strong negative campaign by the Congress against the BJP's leaders.
The result? The relationship between the central leaders and Yediyurappa turned tempestuous and the disdain towards the latter was deep and intense. On taking oath as chief minister, Yediyurappa had sought an appointment with then-BJP president Amit Shah. When he was not sure of getting an appointment, he had to use the influence of a party MP to fix an appointment with Shah.
Fast-forward to February 2020 and faced with a string of defeat in the Assembly polls in Maharashtra and Jharkhand, the BJP national leadership seems to have turned practical. They have accepted Yediyurappa wholeheartedly and all of a sudden, the lone mass leader of the Karnataka BJP has become a 'face-saver' for Modi and Shah. When the party could not ensure the victory of turncoats contesting on BJP tickets in Maharashtra and elsewhere, Yediyurappa took a risk, if not a gamble, to ensure the victory of 12 of the 15 turncoats who contested on the BJP ticket in the Assembly by-election. The bypolls resulted in a clear majority for the BJP government in Karnataka.
The bypoll gamble reflects the political prowess of Yediyurappa, who will turn 77 on 27 February. Now his clout has grown so strong in party circles that no leader can dare to ask him to give up the chief minister's post and join the elite club of the Margadarshak Mandal. No wonder then that the birthday celebration for the Karnataka chief minister will be a big affair this time: Four Union ministers including Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, besides four former chief ministers of Karnataka — SM Krishna, HD Kumaraswamy, DV Sadananda Gowda and Siddaramaiah — are likely to attend the function to be held at Bengaluru Palace Grounds on Thursday.
Many say Yediyurappa is still a rustic and short-tempered politician. But, he is liked by many more. Many leaders, on getting plum political posts, allow themselves to undergo an image makeover. Yediyurappa has not succumbed to this temptation. The leader who hardly shows any expression in public is frequently surrounded by motormouths. However, the Lingayat strongman does not indulge in making hate speeches to please the gallery. Despite having many political rivals who use personal details to run down their rivals, Yediyurappa rarely indulges in mudslinging.
In his first stint as chief minister, he proved to be a disaster because of his reckless behaviour. Now, Yediyurappa seems to have mastered the art of being vigilant and restrained. He was not very considerate towards RSS/BJP workers when he was chief minister between 2008 and 2011. This time around, he is a changed man. Immediately after assuming power, he catered to the RSS and previously-taken decisions like banning Tipu Jayanti from government programmes. But, he has not shown much inclination to change the course of governance by bringing reforms into state administration. He unabashedly displays his Lingayat identity and the party secretly relishes it. It is no longer a secret that this helps the BJP and perhaps even the RSS too.
With his birthday celebrations around the corner, Yediyurappa suddenly began hearing murmurs in the state party circles that his second son, BY Vijayendra (first son, BY Raghavendra is a party MP from Shivamogga) was controlling the government. This one must be a gratifying for Yediyurappa. At least, this can point to Vijayendra getting ready to take to the big stage. In the recent by-polls, Vijayendra proved his potential and achieved an impossible task: He along with Karnataka deputy chief minister, Dr CN Ashwathanarayana, had worked hard to win the KR Pete Assembly seat situated in the hardcore Vokkaliga heartland of Mandya district. Ever since, the party's central leaders have acknowledged his potential. Shah had called Vijayendra to Delhi to understand how the latter unlocked the Vokkaliga supremacy in south Karnataka — something that had eluded the BJP all along.
Party MLAs fear that Vijayendra may succeed Yediyurappa in the future. Incidentally, those who are worried about Vijayendra's rise are incidentally Lingayat leaders. Perhaps, these MLAs might have found a quality in Yediyurappa Jr that they themselves lacked. The BJP, as it stands, is desperate to find a successor to Yediyurappa. In the past, it had experimented with many including Jagadish Shettar and of late, Laxman Savadi, both Lingayats. But, none succeeded in electoral terms. To retain its Lingayat vote base, the BJP might have become pragmatic now. At the risk of attracting opprobrium from the Opposition and intellectuals as well, it may probably promote Vijayendra one day.
Will the RSS approve of this move? Not only the RSS, but the BJP central leadership may also not endorse this plan, going by the mood in the RSS. When Yediyurappa formed the Karnataka Janata Party in 2013, he got only six seats in the Assembly elections held that year. This proves a point: Yediyurappa's charisma and the support base of BJP are mutually inclusive. Both Yediyurappa and his son know this very well. It is the chief minister's die-hard followers who want Vijayendra to succeed him in the near future. However, Yediyurappa has not hit the pause button on their desire as yet. The more the Yediyurappa followers go to Vijayendra seeking his covert intervention in government affairs, the more damage they would do to Vijayendra's political future. He understands this well.
Now that the BJP national president JP Nadda cleared the air that the party will not disturb Yediyurappa in Karnataka for next three years, the latter can focus on good governance for the state leaving aside his succession plan, if at all he has one. It will befit Yediyurappa to announce a plan on his birthday: An aspiration to provide good governance blending empathy and ethics will help him leave a legacy for future. And if he comes out with a roadmap in this regard on that day, it may disappoint a few of his supporters awaiting his succession plan but it will certainly enthuse the citizenry at large.
The author is a senior journalist and a political commentator
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Updated Date: Feb 26, 2020 08:57:09 IST