“Every moment of my political life was an agnipariksha (trial by fire),” a teary-eyed BS Yediyurappa said on 26 July 2021 before stepping down from the post of Karnataka chief minister. Close to two years later, on 22 February 2023, he sprang a surprise on the floor of the Legislative Assembly by making what he called his “farewell speech,” or his last address in the Assembly.
He will not contest polls another time, he said, as he assured his commitment to work for the BJP till his “last breath.” He thanked the party for giving him opportunities and infused confidence among the BJP MLAs to face the elections.
Has Yediyurappa’s innings as a political playmaker in Karnataka ended? Here's an inside look into the what the BJP expects from Yediyurappa and what the veteran leader and four-time chief minister of Karnataka expects from the saffron party in return.
Yediyurappa, according to reliable sources, would continue to be an influential leader for the BJP in Karnataka. Two months prior to the Karnataka polls and months prior to his retirement from electoral politics, the BJP leader made his final demands known to the saffron party’s national leadership, The Quint has learnt.
What Does Yediyurappa Want from BJP?
As he is still a leader who is valuable for the BJP, Yediyurappa has had his say in his family’s future in the party, it is learnt.
Though the BJP has accommodated him in the Central Parliamentary Board, Yediyurappa expects to be rewarded if the BJP returns to power. He wants the party to accommodate his son Vijayendra in the cabinet. The BJP had, at the last minute, declined the Varuna Assembly ticket to Vijayendra in the 2018.
Also, in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls, Yediyurappa expects the party to renominate his elder son BY Raghavendra from the Shivamogga seat.
Moreover, he wants the BJP to make Vijayendra deputy chief minister, if the party wins the polls. Will these demands be under BJP's consideration ahead of 2023 polls?
Why BSY Is Important for BJP
On 27 February, Yediyurappa will turn 80 years of age. The very same day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be in Karnataka to inaugurate Yediyurappa's dream project – an airport in his home district, Shivamogga. Is this indicative of Yediyurappa’s continued influence in BJP?
It's evident that BJP's campaign for Assembly polls, due in May this year, will be driven by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah who have been taking turns to frequent the state since January.
Though Shah had earlier said the elections will be fought under Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai, the party seems to have realised that he does not have a pan-Karnataka connection as Yediyurappa does.
Besides, the central leadership of BJP is aware that the Bommai government is facing an anti-incumbency wave and a majority of the constituencies will witness three-way contests between the BJP, Congress, and Janata Dal (Secular).
This being the case, reliance on traditional vote-bank of the BJP will be of prime importance. Since 2008, when BJP formed the government independently for the first time in the state after increasing its tally through Operation Lotus (poaching MLAs from other parties), the party's numbers have come from the Lingayat community, which constitutes 17 percent of the total population. The community is a decisive factor for candidates' victory in at least 100 of the 224 constituencies. Their influence is significant in north Karnataka.
BJP’s Lingayat Trouble
Yediyurappa was the man who cultivated the Lingayats, after former Chief Minister Ramakrishna Hegde showed the way. In 1983, when Hedge formed the first non-Congress government in the state, Yediyurappa and his 18 MLAs lent support to the Janata Party. In 2000, after Janata Party’s split, Yediyurappa emerged to be an important leader for the Lingayats who leaned towards the BJP. In 2018, of the 104 seats the BJP won, 81 were from north Karnataka.
Hence, sidelining the Raja Huli, as Yediyurappa is popularly known, will cost the BJP seats, as the party had released in the 2013 Assembly polls. In 2012, Yediyurappa had quit the BJP to form Karnataka Janata Paksha. Though this party won only six seats, it damaged the BJP’s prospects and the party won just 40 seats as against 110 in 2008.
In the upcoming polls, the BJP cannot claim to have the support of all the Lingayats.
The reason being, the Panchamasali Lingayats, who form a huge chunk of this community, have been up in arms against the Bommai government for not providing them 2A category reservation within the Backward Classes list. Besides, the Congress, which had given up on the Lingayat support after it lost its goodwill three decades ago, has been making efforts to win back the community now.
However, there is also a section in the BJP which thinks the party has now grown beyond Yediyurappa. “The BJP believes in the norm that all are important, but nobody is indispensable,'' a party functionary said. According to him the party may not have Lingayat stalwarts of Yediyurappa's stature, but there are leaders who can get the community’s votes even though they are confined to their constituencies or districts.