Why BS Yediyurappa matters for the BJP in Karnataka
Exactly two years after he assumed the chief minister’s post in Karnataka, BS Yediyurappa has tendered his resignation. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is yet to name his successor. The fact that there is no obvious front-runner despite Yediyurappa’s resignation being in the works for months underscores his importance in Karnataka’s political landscape. There are two key challenges facing the BJP at the moment. One, making sure that Yediyurappa does not rebel against it, like he did in 2012, and two, maintaining the party’s support base in the Lingayat community, of which the outgoing CM is the tallest leader. Here are three charts which explain this.
Lingayats voted for the BJP in 2019
The BJP achieved its best ever performance in Karnataka in the 2019 elections winning 25 out of the 28 Lok Sabha seats. While the party had high levels of support across Hindus, it was an overwhelming 87% among Lingayats, who account for almost 16%-17% of the state’s population. The Congress-JD (S) government fell immediately after the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and Yediyurappa, a Lingayat, was made the chief minister. (See Chart 1)
Lingayats have been the core support-base of the BJP in Karnataka, but they are also loyal to Yediyurappa.
Karnataka is the first and only southern state so far where the BJP has been able to capture power on its own. The BJP’s success story in the state is tied with Yediyurappa who has mobilised the Lingayats for the party.
In the 2013 assembly elections, the BJP party realised the hard way that it cannot take Lingayat support for granted if Yediyurappa is not on board. Yediyurappa parted ways with the BJP and formed the Karnataka Janata Paksha (KJP) after he was made to resign as the chief minister in 2011. The KJP did massive damage to the BJP in the 2013 assembly elections in which its performance was the worst since the 1994 state polls. (See Chart 2)
A comparison of community-wise vote shares from the 2008 and 2013 CSDS-Lokniti surveys shows that the Lingayats deserted the BJP in a big way in the 2013 elections. The Lingayat support returned in the 2014 elections (it was 63% according to CSDS-Lokniti), by which time Yediyurappa had been brought back into the BJP fold. (See Chart 3)
BJP’s social engineering problem in Karnataka
Caste politics has always been important in Karnataka. In its heydays, the Congress, under the leadership of Devraj Urs perfected what it called the AHINDA coalition which included minorities, backward classes and dalits. The Congress fell between two stools in the 2018 elections, while trying to play the AHINDA card on the one hand and wooing Lingayats with a separate religious status on the other. While it did gain some ground among the Lingayats, it lost the support of other sections.
The BJP, which is enjoying the peak of its political popularity in Karnataka if the 2019 results are any indication, will face a similar problem. It cannot alienate the Lingayats who are its most loyal supporters but must also be seen as offering a bigger share of power to other Hindus. Whether or not Yediyurappa’s successor is a Lingayat is the BJP’s first challenge on this front. We will know soon enough.