Karnataka BJP president BS Yeddyurappa is a happy man these days. Ever since a special CBI court in the city acquitted him of graft charges involving the grant of mining leases during his tenure as chief minister, the septuagenarian politician seems to have got a fresh lease of life.
His acquittal last month is significant as it was the most serious of all charges that the former chief minister faced. He was forced to step down as CM in 2011 and subsequently spent two months in jail.
The alleged mining lease scam together with a host of other allegations had cast a shadow on the fate of the seasoned politician, best known countrywide as BJP’s first chief minister in the whole of south India.
Political circles in the state are abuzz that Yeddyurappa is on a comeback trail. Fifteen other graft cases registered against him have already been quashed, though the Congress government intends to challenge them in the Supreme Court.
“The taint is gone. Yeddyurappa is poised to take over from where he left off,” said one of his aides.
Yeddyurappa is critical for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as its most prominent face in the state. And his clout stems from being an influential leader of the Lingayat community, which comprise about 10% of the state’s electorate.
“There is no doubt that Yeddyurappa is the symbol of the Lingayat community, which is closely aligned now with the BJP. This is the biggest factor in his favour,” said Alphonse Kennedy, a social activist.
It will not be a cakewalk though for Yeddyurappa in leading the BJP back to power in Karnataka.
At 73, he is not getting any younger. There are also leaders within the state BJP who are opposed to him.
The most prominent among his detractors are KS Eshwarappa, the opposition leader in the state legislative council. Two months ago, Eshwarappa had sought to rally support among Other Backward Classes with an eye to counter Yeddyurappa’s clout.
Nursing his own political ambitions is Union minister for parliamentary affairs Ananth Kumar, also known to be opposed to Yeddyurappa calling the shots in the state BJP.
Political observers say Yeddyurappa’s biggest challenge will be to quell dissent within his own party. The party’s national leadership, president Amit Shah in particular, has reportedly thrown its weight behind him, appointing him the state president this April overlooking the claims of others.
Though hamstrung by a string of controversies that constantly dogged him during his tenure, Yeddyurappa proved his clout during the 2013 elections. He briefly parted ways with the BJP and joined the Karnataka Janata Paksha (KJP), which secured almost 10 percent of the votes. The BJP’s vote share plummeted to 20 percent from 34.5 percent in the elections five years ago.
Back in the party fold, the BJP is hoping Yeddyurappa will retain his electoral magic. In 2008, he had led the party to power for the first time in the state. “We hope he will repeat that stellar show in 2018 when assembly polls are held,” said a party leader.