The end of the BSY era
When BS Yediyurappa resigned as Karnataka’s chief minister (CM) on Monday morning, it truly marked the end of an era for both the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the state. For the party, Mr Yediyurappa was the last man standing from the old guard who had retained a position of power in the formal governance structure. Now 78, he joined the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh over five decades ago and rose up the Jana Sangh and the BJP hierarchy — all the way from a district to state unit president; from a member of the legislative assembly first elected way back in 1983 to a member of Parliament elected in 2014 (the short national stint was only because he wanted to stay focused on the state); from a three-term leader of opposition in the assembly to a four-term chief minister, though two of those terms were of less than a week’s duration. But beyond the formal positions, it was Mr Yediyurappa’s blood, sweat, and tears that enabled the BJP to cross the rubicon and become a truly national party with an imprint in the south.
In the state, Mr Yediyurappa draws his power from the Lingayat community, which constitutes over 15% of the population and with a network of sub-religious institutions, wields disproportionate influence over politics. But the Karnataka satrap also went beyond his caste base to expand the BJP’s footprint among other communities. This multi-caste alliance has been a strength, but has also generated tensions as is visible in the battle for succession between leaders of Lingayat and non-Lingayat communities in the state. Mr Yediyurappa’s administrative record is hard to judge — for he never fulfilled a full term in office. But perhaps in a symbol of the close nexus that begun to mark the nature of India’s compromised crony capitalism in the 2000s, he faced corruption allegations on land and mining issues, most infamously due to his perceived links with the mining barons of Bellary. This eroded the party’s image as one with a difference.
The BJP now has to ensure a smooth leadership transition, keeping all factions and castes happy. It also has to ensure that the exit doesn’t have implications for the stability of the government. Memories of its electoral setback when Mr Yediyurappa briefly left the party between 2012 and 2014 will be fresh in the BJP’s mind. And it has to ensure that Mr Yediyurappa does not cash a long shadow over his successor. How it navigates these challenges will determine the future of the party in the state.