CM Yediyurappa, the recalcitrant conformist, turns 78
- A Bengaluru-based political analyst said that Yediyurappa's supporters may want to go in for low-key birthday celebrations even though detractors may post as many ads as possible to remind everyone of his age.
Karnataka chief minister BS Yediyurappa turns 78-years-old on Friday but there is little to suggest that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has any alternative to letting the Lingayat leader continue in the lead role despite the BJP’s thumb rule against letting those above 75 hold public office.
Few other leaders in Karnataka--or India--can claim to have encountered the challenges that Yediyurappa has endured throughout his four-decade-old political career, which is only likely to get more intense in the days ahead, analysts and party leaders said.
The chief minister, despite the threat to his own chair, has taken it upon himself to bring the BJP back to power with an absolute majority in 2023 assembly elections that would cement his legacy and open the doors wider for him to placate his second son (B Y Vijayendra) and other loyalists to retain some control over the party.
“As of now all indications point toward the possibility that he will remain the face of the next elections,” said a person aware of the developments, requesting not to be named.
A Bengaluru-based political analyst said that Yediyurappa's supporters may want to go in for low-key birthday celebrations even though detractors may post as many ads as possible to remind everyone of his age.
“The BJP is looking for a replacement but have not yet found any. Yediyurappa's continuation is linked to being a Lingayat leader but there are desperate efforts to separate the two,” A Narayana, political analyst and faculty at Azim Premji University said.
Narayana refers to the economic term, derived demand to make his point on Karnataka politics. “This is a derived situation where what you see as the future of the BJP depends on how you see the Congress,” he said.
The BJP has tried to develop a second rung of leadership but with little success so far and “para-dropping” of leaders by high command is unlikely to sit well with the polity in Karnataka, analysts said.
Moreover, BJP's problem in Karnataka is its inability to take power on its own, leaving it at the mercy of borrowed strength.
In 2008, the BJP had to seek the support of independents and later resort to engineering defections for power. The same strategy was used in 2019 to topple the HD Kumaraswamy-led Janata Dal (Secular) or JD(S)-Congress coalition government.
The turncoats have since been besotted by Yediyurappa who has gone out of his way to keep his promise of inducting them into the cabinet even if at the threat of his antagonising his own core-party workers and legislators.
The turncoats have no real connection with the BJP or its core ideology and have shown inclinations to keep all their support groups happy as against targeting any particular community.
While dissent and disgruntlement have a deep impact on the government, analysts said that Yediyurappa is one of the few politicians tactful enough “to make his opponents and detractors do what he wants them to do”.
One analyst, on condition of anonymity, said that Yediyurappa is reviving reservation-based politics as against the BJPs plans to further penetrate its Hindutva-backed politics.
“Reservation and Hindutva do not go hand-in-hand,” the analyst said.
Yediyurappa has rarely identified with Hindutva politics and is better known for his reservation-based and coalition building abilities that gets support from other stalwarts like H.D Deve Gowda and Siddaramaiah, who both share cordial and functional relations with the 78-year-old.
Nor does Yediyurappa fit in well with BJPs plans for the rest of the southern states like Tamil Nadu and Kerala where the saffron outfit has little or no presence on its own.
The likes of Basanagouda Ramangouda Patil (Yatnal) have tried to push a firebrand image but this was diluted as soon as the former got sucked into the reservation demands of the Panchamasalis, a subsect of the dominant and politically influential Lingayats. Bracketing Yediyurappa to his sub-sect is a move that will be resisted by the Lingayat community, analysts said, which threatens the combined bargaining power of one of the biggest and politically influential communities in the state.
The juggernaut of various caste-groups demanding better reservation opportunities is also likely to work in favour of Yediyurappa who has an option to reorganize the structure and not to be seen as favouring any one community.
The BJP may also gain from moving some communities one step higher as it would free up opportunities for Brahmins in their existing reservation and play into the party's "upper-caste" political narrative.
The internal bickering within his party and government, analysts said, could pose as a bigger irritant to the chief minister and his uncertain tenure at the top chair.
Yediyurappa, possibly the oldest person to be chief minister in Karnataka, is one of just a handful of politicians who can ensure victory beyond his own constituency as against legislators and leaders who have strongholds limited to assembly constituencies at best.
Yediyurappa has also delivered an unprecedented 25 out of the 29 Lok Sabha seats in 2019--an achievement that is unlikely to be repeated.
But Yediyurappa's overt expression of helplessness and reluctance to fight the centre over reduction of revenues to the state, devolution of taxes or even getting adequate flood relief has forced him on the back foot. He has limited options to make a splash in the upcoming state budget as funds continue to dry up and may not be able to provide any big-bang schemes to deflect public and political gaze away from the non-performance of his two-year-old government.
For now, it’s just another birthday. Whether it will be a happy one is still to be seen.