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South’s saffron star

india Updated: Nov 16, 2007 22:39 IST
B.R. Srikanth
B.R. Srikanth
Hindustan Times
Bookanakere Siddalingappa Yeddyurappa

Bookanakere Siddalingappa Yeddyurappa’s long ride to fame as the saffron brigade’s poster boy, south of the Vindhyas began with 10-km bicycle rides.

Yeddyurappa started his working life as a clerk at a rice mill in Shikaripura in Shimoga district. This is where he got initiated into farmers’ issues and politics. Flanked by two strapping wrestlers, this grim-faced leader would peddle up the rugged lanes of Shimoga every morning to get the hang of farmers’ problems. These trips extended to touch other parts of the taluk, and so did the band of cycle-borne farmers.

The intensity of his campaign helped power his steady rise in local politics — head of the taluk unit of Jana Sangh in 1972 to municipal councillor in 1975 and president of the municipal council two years later. By 1983, he had mustered enough support to trounce a minister and walk into the Legislative Assembly for the first time.

Cut to 2007. Yeddyurappa continues to wear his concern for farmers on his sleeves. As deputy CM, he reeled off a slew of populist measures for farmers, fishermen and weavers and labourers. As the first BJP CM in the south, perhaps his next concern would be a stable market for farm produce.

A widower with three daughters and two sons, Yeddyurappa has groomed his eldest son Raghavendra in politics and helped him win civic elections at Shikaripura.

To soothe his nerves, the leader watches Kannada movies and some cricket, in particular the limited version involving Pakistan and India.

In party circles, Yeddyurappa has the reputation of riding roughshod over others and therefore has several foes. His bete noire, National General Secretary H.N. Ananth Kumar, has evolved as a constant threat. Their differences cost the party dearly during the 2004 Assembly polls, when it failed to get simple majority.

This leader’s “vaulting ambition”, much like that of Macbeth, made him extremely restive and he even contemplated defecting to the Congress or Janata Dal (S) in August 2005, to secure a ministerial berth.

By his own admission, the prospect of losing out a post despite such a show in the polls, encouraged him to open channels of communication with both these parties. However, when he could not muster the numbers to engineer a split, he gave vent to his frustrations in the form of an attack against Ananth Kumar for constant interference in the state unit. The central leaders then worked out a formula to keep his sworn enemy out of the the state unit and gave the leader a free hand in Karnataka.

With Vajpayee as his role-model, Yeddyurappa plans to walk the tight rope of coalition politics along with Janata Dal (S).

His incurable haste, however, has earned a rap on the knuckles from his predecessor, H. D. Kumaraswamy For now, Yeddyurappa has to bank on his three-decade-old experience of running a coalition.