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BS Yeddyurappa is Narendra Modi's gateway to Karnataka to 2019: A fall guy if things go south during Assembly polls

BS Yeddyurappa could not have asked for a better birthday present for himself. Not only did he have Prime Minister Narendra Modi by his side on Tuesday when he turned 75, the BJP leader also got an assurance from the party leadership that he will be chief minister of Karnataka for a full five-year term if BJP comes to power this May.

The announcement is significant because 75 is the unofficial cut-off age for ministers in BJP, both at the Centre and in the states where the party is in power, to call it a day. Union ministers Najma Heptulla and Kalraj Mishra stepped down after crossing the age limit. Veterans like LK Advani and MM Joshi were asked to take membership of the Margdarshak Mandal. Anandibehn Patel in Gujarat resigned three months before the D-day, citing the age factor.

 BS Yeddyurappa is Narendra Modis gateway to Karnataka to 2019: A fall guy if things go south during Assembly polls

Narendra Modi and BS Yeddyurappa at Davanagere. PTI

So, is Yeddyurappa going to be a one-off case or is a precedent being set within BJP? More importantly, does the decision to give Yeddyurappa a five-year lifeline of political office suggest that BJP has no leadership options in Karnataka barring the former chief minister of the state? Or, is the move aimed at placating BSY, to tell him he will not be shortchanged at the victory post?

At another level, the move seems to imply an effort to compensate Yeddyurappa for the manner in which the Advani-influenced BJP in 2011 virtually abandoned him, forcing him to resign as chief minister. When Yeddyurappa subsequently quit the party to float his own Karnataka Janata Paksha (KJP), he pointed out that when he had resigned, he had been assured by then BJP president Nitin Gadkari that he would be reinstated in the post soon.

"The promises proved false. Advani had the intention to place Anant Kumar in the chief minister's post. The leaders of my own party leveled baseless charges against me," Yeddyurappa had said.

Though Yeddyurappa has been projected as the chief ministerial face of BJP in Karnataka, a whisper campaign about several ifs and buts have been doing the rounds. The most prominent of them being the number of candles on his birthday cake. The Lingayat community, the largest in Karnataka at 17 percent of the population, was apprehensive that BJP will dump him after securing the votes in his name. Yeddyurappa is seen as the tallest leader in the community and ensures that the Lingayats rally behind BJP. This move to publicly back him is to assuage the doubts among the Lingayats.

"Strategically, BJP, obviously, can't say that he (Yeddyurappa) will be the chief minister only for a year or two. It is quite possible that after the 2019 Lok Sabha Election, Yeddyurappa may be asked to hand over the baton to a leader of his choice. But if BJP wins now, it would be a great betrayal if someone else is made the chief minister," says political analyst Hemantha Kumar.

It is also meant to send a message to other leaders in the top-heavy Karnataka BJP. Over the past few months, with the likes of a rabble-rousing Union minister Hegde gaining traction, the Yeddyurappa camp was feeling a bit insecure. BSY tried to establish his credentials as the state boss when he made it clear that he did not approve of the communally incendiary remarks made by Hegde and ensured he was ticked off. Hegde has been a repeat offender, making several provocative statements including saying, "Until we uproot Islam, we cannot remove terrorism." The flip side is that these divisive remarks have helped him gain more traction in communally sensitive coastal Karnataka region.

Though it may seem like BJP has a problem of plenty, BSY remains the only leader with a pan-Karnataka appeal. And, therefore, strictly enforcing the 75-year-rule may prove counterproductive.

"The situation now is such that if BJP wins, the credit will go to Modi's charm and Amit Shah's election management. But Yeddyurappa will be the fall guy if BJP loses," points out political analyst Sugata Raju.

BJP's critics also point out that the Yeddyurappa of 2018 is not the Yeddyurappa of 2008. His body language with Yogi Adityanath during the Parivartana Yatra where it was obvious who was the boss did not show the Karnataka strongman in a flattering light. Then his tweets alleging Rahul Gandhi ate chicken before visiting a temple in Koppal did not behove well for a leader of his stature. The attack could have been mounted by a junior functionary of the BJP.

However, Kumar disagrees. "On the contrary, Yeddyurappa is far stronger now," says Kumar.

"In 2008, Yeddyurappa only harped on the betrayal by HD Kumaraswamy to get votes. But today, he is going to the people as the numero uno leader of the Lingayats. Two, ten years ago, BJP High command was not strong. But today, both Modi and Shah are backing him because a lot is at stake for them too."

The Davangere public meeting this week saw BJP pushing the Yeddyurappa card, making a connection between the Karnataka elections and the Lok Sabha polls next year. BSY in 2018, NaMo in 2019 is the war cry, asking the people to vote for new Karnataka and new India.

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Updated Date: Mar 01, 2018 14:27:27 IST