For the BJP, their Karnataka state president BS Yeddyurappa is a complex reality. While in Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh, the old guard has been replaced by younger chief ministers; in Karnataka, 76-year-old BS Yeddyurappa remains the CM candidate without competition.
With the massive victory in Lok Sabha elections presenting an opportunity to form the government in the state, there are demands, especially from the RSS, to replace Yeddyurappa with a younger face.
But Yeddyurappa whips up a complexity in the demand for a new political atmosphere in the state because of the caste equations. While the party’s sweeping victory in the Lok Sabha elections in the state is attributed to anger against the Congress-JD(S) coalition and Modi’s nationalistic image, it is undeniable that the Lingayat community, which constitutes 14 percent of BJP’s vote bank was the backbone of this electoral win.
BSY’s Political Career Gets an Extension
Nurturing his dream of becoming the chief minister of the state again, Yeddyurappa had tried to bring down the coalition government in the state during the past one year. During this time, the RSS faction in the party had pushed for Yeddyurappa’s removal from the party’s helm, citing his inability to form the government despite being the single largest party and failed coup attempts to bring down the alliance.
If the party had won less than 15 seats in the general elections in Karnataka, Yeddyurappa’s political career would have reached a deadline, but the unprecedented landslide victory in the state has not only given his political career an extension, but has also taken him closer to the dream of becoming the chief minister again.
The Push from RSS
The BJP leaders in Karnataka are awaiting a signal from the central leadership on how to go about forming the state government. The BJP claims many coalition MLAs have already approached them offering their resignations. The BJP, which won the Assembly bypoll in Chincholi has 105 seats in the Assembly, and if eight MLAs resign, they could form the government.
While the BJP is certain of forming the government in Karnataka in the coming days, the RSS is pushing for a change of guard in the state.
One of the arguments put forth by the RSS camp is interpretation that the BJP victory was the result of the state’s internal politics, Hindutva and the Modi wave, and that the party was likely less worried about caste equations.
Even though the RSS’ argument is considered a hubris by many, the pressure to replace Yeddyurappa remains a reality. Even if not immediate, replacing Yeddyurappa with a younger leader with the next couple of years is considered a strong possibility by many within the party.
How BSY Became a Lingayat Leader
But removing Yeddyurappa, even after two years, would be political suicide for the BJP because of the sway the former chief minister has over the Lingayat community. Even though the largest vote bank of the BJP, the Lingayats have been with the BJP for only less than two decades. Prior to this, the Lingayats had rallied behind the Congress.
It was a hasty removal of a Lingayat leader Veerendra Patil from CM chair, by Rajiv Gandhi in 1990 that started exodus of the Lingayat votes, which eventually consolidated with the BJP under Yeddyurappa.
The Lingayat votes were traditionally with the Congress party. In 1969, after Congress party split into two factions, those who supported Indira Gandhi formed the Congress (I) and those who opposed her became Congress (0). Following this split, most of the senior Lingayat leaders went to the Congress (0).
Years after, the Janata Party was formed and the Congress (0) merged with it. During this merger, senior Lingayat leaders Nijalingappa, Veerendra Patil, Ramakrishna Hegde and a majority of Lingayat votes moved to the Janata Party.
The Veerendra Patil Debacle
But, one of the Lingayat leaders Veerendra Patil moved back to the Congress, splitting the Lingayat votes between the Congress and Janata party.
Patil was made CM in 1989, but after he took ill, in 1990, then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi dismissed him as the chief minister. It is alleged that the decision was made by Rajiv Gandhi at the Bengaluru airport, without even consulting Patil.
This was taken as a humiliation by the Lingayat community in the state and the community’s affiliation with the Janata Party grew stronger.
After the Janata Party became Janata Dal (JD), and subsequently split into JD(S) and JD(U), senior Lingayat leaders moved to the JD(U). The JD(U) eventually lent its support to the BJP and after the senior Lingayat leader in JD(U) died, Lingayat votes were transferred to the BJP. Being a Lingayat leader, Yeddyurappa emerged as the community’s face within BJP.
The deliberations to remove Yeddyurappa from the party’s helm are now being compared to the Veerendra Patil episode, claiming this would result in an exodus of the Lingayat votes from the BJP.
In the coming days, the future of the Karnataka government and that of Yeddyurappa will be known. Whether this leader from the old Janata Party faction of the BJP can keep the RSS faction from removing him from power remains the big question.