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BJP Infighting Surfaces in Karnataka: Can BS Yediyurappa Stay Relevant?

On Thursday, Yediyurappa, faced a protest by his own party workers and had to cancel BJP's pre-election march.

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With the Karnataka Assembly elections in sight, the underlying differences in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) seem to have surfaced and become public.

On Thursday, 17 March, BS Yediyurappa, who is one of the major faces for the party's election campaign faced a protest by his own party workers in Chikkamagaluru district's Mudigere constituency. Visibly irked and embarrassed, the Lingayat leader did not step out of the car and returned, cancelling the pre-election march.

Meanwhile, the workers protesting were supporters of none other than BJP's National General Secretary CT Ravi.

So, what is the infighting about? Will this factionlism impact the BJP's chances in 2023 Assembly election scheduled for April-May? Can BS Yediyurappa retain favor of the party? The Quint answers.

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First, What Exactly Happened in Mudigere?

Yediyurappa, with whom Prime Minister Narendra Modi walked hand-in-hand recently, was in Chikkamagaluru district for BJP's Vijaya Sankalpa Yatra on Thursday.

However, on reaching the Mudigere constituency, his car was gheraoed by party workers, who shouted slogans and held placards, protesting against incumbenet MLA MP Kumaraswamy, who is eyeing another term at the Mudigere constituency.

The party workers were reportedly supporting party national general secretary CT Ravi, who had also dismissed Yediyurappa's declaration that his son BY Vijayendra would contest from the family stronghold Shikaripura in Shivamogga district.

Kumaraswamy, known for his unfiltered comments, is seen as a liability by a section in the party. With Yediyurappa in the parliamentary board, party workers hoped that he would be able to deny ticket to Kumaraswamy. 

Following the chaos, the visibly upset Lingayat strongman, was forced to cancel the roadshow.

Where Does the Raja Huli Stand Now?

Raja Huli, as Yediyurappa is popularly known, had recently announced his retirement from contesting in elections. However, he had said that he will make all efforts to bring the saffron party back to power with a simple majority.

His energy and enthusiasm towards the election campaign, however, is conditional on three expectations:

  • He wants the party to accommodate his son Vijayendra, who the BJP had declined the Varuna Assembly ticket in 2018 at the last minute, in the new cabinet.

  • In the 2024 Lok Sabha polls, Yediyurappa expects the party to renominate his elder son BY Raghavendra from the Shivamogga seat.

  • He wants the BJP to make Vijayendra deputy chief minister if the party wins the polls.

While only time will tell if these expectations are met, the BJP first has to tackle the infighting.

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Infighting Within the BJP

Speaking to The Quint about the infighting and Thursday's events, political analyst and Pro-Vice Chancellor of Jain University, Sandeep Shastri, said, "For the first time Yediyurappa is facing a situation where though he is an important person in the campaign he is not leading it...He is not the CM face of the party."

Shastri added that how the BJP handles its infighting will play a key role in deciding whether the party wins or loses the polls.

He listed three large groups in the Karnataka BJP:

  1. Those who vouch their loyalty to BJP's affiliated organisations – like the RSS and ABVP.

  2. Those who joined the party without working in the affiliated organisations.

  3. Those who joined the party from other parties recently – especially in 2019.

"All three are now positioning themselves for power within the party especially now that the ticket distribution is going to take place. Every group is flexing its muscles to make sure they are not left out of the process," he said.

Shastri highlighted that the debate between "winnability" and the party's "core ideology" is already going on. "The factionalism is a byproduct of that debate," he said.

Meanwhile, speaking to The Quint, BJP spokesperson Ganesh Karnik, said, "The party is poised to form the government in Karnataka on its strength. To achieve this, the entire team is going to work as a single unit – we don’t have differences. That doesn’t mean that there are no aspirants in different constituencies. There are aspirants which is natural in a political party, but we know how to sort that out."

Terming such protests and demands "normal," Karnik added, "He (Yediyurappa) is our tallest leader – not just for the party but in the entire state he is the most appreciated leader cutting across party lines. His ability to tour the entire state is our biggest strength."

On being asked if Thursday's showdown affect the Lingayat voters, Shastri said:

"At the end of the day these are perception battles – in every constituency there are factions within the party and there are different contenders for the seat. This factionalism plays out in multiple ways."

"But this is the price the party has to pay for always having had a manufactured majority. For the BJP, it has always been a manufactured majority (not winning a simple majority in the elections but later). And that involves making compromises – so factionalism is a natural corollary to the series of compromises."

While infighting plagues all the parties, sometimes silently and other times publicly, Shastri underlined that those "who handle this infighting more effectively will be the winners."

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