The importance of being B S Yediyurappa
Few Chief Ministers in contemporary India have the political survival instincts that Karnataka Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa possesses. Time and again, he has been written off and his political decline was predicted. Time and again he has defied all such commentators and continued to remain in the political limelight. For quite some time now, analysts have been talking of a possible change of guard in Karnataka.
The two by-election victories have once again placed all such discussions on the back-burner, at least for now. It may be useful to assess what has contributed to Yediyurappa's capacity to tide crisis after crisis and continue to remain politically relevant and central to the BJP in the state.
It is clear that when it comes to Yediyurappa, the BJP has had to side-step some of its golden rules. Since Prime Minister Modi took over the leadership of the party, the 75 year rule has been consistently followed to ease out leaders from important party or government positions. Leaders have been considered ineligible for political office after having reached this age. Yediyurappa crossed the age of 75 just before the 2018 State Assembly elections.
He had already been anointed by the party as its Chief Ministerial candidate. One remembers his supporters celebrated his 75th birthday on 27th February 2018 (a few months before the state elections). They were clearly instructed not to mention his age in any of the hoarding or banners. It did not find a mention in any of the speeches. He is thus, one of the few leaders in the BJP who has returned to the position of Chief Minister (twice) after crossing the age of retirement unofficially fixed by the BJP.
Secondly, the BJP in its fight with the Congress has strongly opposed dynastic politics. The Congress has been ridiculed by the BJP leadership for clutching on to the coat-tails of the Gandhi-Nehru family. At the senior level there are not too many examples of dynasties within the BJP. B.S.Yediyurappa is a clear exception to this rule. For quite some time now, his one son has been a Member of Parliament from Shimoga whenever Yediyurappa has been an MLA and for the one occasion when he was elected to the Lok Sabha his son won the by-election for his Assembly seat.
In the past few years his younger son has been an important power centre. Though this son was denied a ticket to contest the 2018 Assembly elections, he was accommodated by the BJP within the party organization and has since grown in political stature ever since his father returned to the Chief Ministership.
Whenever there is talk of the replacement of the Chief Minister, it is accompanied with a discussion on a suitable position being given to his younger son.
Thirdly, given the disciplined nature of the BJP, rarely has once seen a political leader who rebelled and quit the party being rehabilitated and given a pride of place within a short period of time. One is of course, not referring to those who quit other parties and joined the BJP! When Yediyurappa was forced to resign as Chief Minister in 2011, he was allowed to handpick his successor Sadananda Gowda and later also ensure his replacement by Jagadish Shettar. Less than a decade ago (in 2012) he resigned from the BJP to head his own Karnataka Janata Party (KJP). In the Assembly elections of 2013, the KJP did not do too well but played the role of a spoiler damaging the chances of BJP candidates. In the new Assembly, the Janata Dal (S) emerged as the official opposition as it secured more votes than the BJP. When Narendra Modi became the Prime Ministerial candidate of the BJP, one of the conditions he is believed to have placed before the state level leaders of the party, in order to start his campaign in Karnataka, was to ensure the return of Yediyurappa to the party. Modi launched his Karnataka campaign at a function which saw Yediyurappa returning to his parent party and merging the KJP with the BJP. Within four years of his return he once again became the Chief Minister of the state, albeit for a brief while.
What makes Yediyurappa so important and critical for the BJP? There is no shadow of doubt that he rose from the ranks of the frontal organizations in the party. His organisational skills and role in building the party are clearly evident. Along with the former Central minister Ananta Kumar. Yediyurappa was instrumental in building up the party. If the BJP has a presence in South India and has come to power in an Indian state South of the Vindhyas, Yediyurappa had a big role to play in this achievement. The fact that he is a respected leader from the Lingayat community which has consistently supported the BJP especially since the mid 1990s is an important factor to explain his stature and strong political presence. Yediyurappa's role in building the party especially in the last three decades (since the 1990s) has been key to the party's success both in national and state level elections. The fact that the BJP leadership announced him as their Chief Ministerial face more than a year prior to the 2018 Assembly elections, was evidence of his importance and vital role in any strategy to come back to power.
Ever since Yediyurappa returned to power as Chief Minister in 2019 one has noticed a much weakened Chief Minister. There was a delay in securing the nod from the central leadership to form the government in the state after the collapse of the JD(S) -Congress coalition government. Three Deputy Chief Ministers were put in place by the central leadership. The cabinet expansion took an agonizingly long time as the central leadership took its own leisurely pace to approve the names. The central leadership sprung a surprise when announcing Rajya Sabha election candidates of the party with the recommendations of the Chef Minister being ignored.
In this fourth term of Chief Minister one notices a sense of political fatigue becoming increasingly visible. The Chief Minister does not seem to have the vigour and belligerence he often displayed in the past when dealing with the Central leadership of the party. He appears to have reconciled himself to the emerging reality and seems to be merely going through the motions. Sooner or later, Karnataka will see a leadership change but do not rule out the Chief Minster having the last laugh!
(Sandeep Shastri is a student of politics whose writings have extensively focused on the leadership factor in politics. He is the Pro Vice Chancellor of JAIN)