Can Yeddyurappa Sound the Victory Bugle in Karnataka Again?

Love him or hate him but none can deny that B. S. Yeddyurappa is the tallest leader in Karnataka over the past decade. He single handedly has decided the fate of Karnataka since 2004, sometimes for good and sometimes for not-so-good. And with his acquittal in the nepotism case recently, he has been cleared off all the accusations. As the proverbial cleaning of impurities from metals BSY, as Yeddyurappa is popularly known, is now the golden man for BJP in Karnataka and the gateway to the South.

BSY has long been in the public life having being first elected as MLA in 1983. Since then he has worked diligently to become the 19th Chief Minister of Karnataka in 2008. But due to undue influence of Reddy Brothers and their coterie coupled with a governor looking for a reason, BSY had to resign in 2011. But that was just the start of his troubles. By end of 2011 as many as half-a-dozen cases were piled on him. And he was even sent to jail for 23 days. That was the darkest timeline in BSY’s political career.

It was at this juncture that the BJP high command led by Sri L. K. Advani put enormous pressure on BSY instead of at least waiting on the judgement from the courts. BSY resigned from his MLA seat and BJP membership in November 2012. He started an outfit called Karnataka Janata Paksha which was to play spoilsport in the assembly elections that happened in 2013. The nascent party won 10% of the total vote share. More importantly it divided the votes that were to go to BJP in many constituencies and due to this Congress made a comeback in Karnataka. Finally good heads prevailed in both Karnataka and Delhi and BSY merged his party back into BJP.

So at the onset of the iconic 2014 elections there were two main tests pending as far as Karnataka BJP was concerned – BSY’s effect on the Lok Sabha elections and impending cases against BSY. The BSY led BJP won 43% vote share and 17 seats in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections which were held just a year after the 2013 State elections which installed INC!!! That tells the power of BSY. The other pending testwas the cases against BSY. That too started to crumble regularly due to lack of ANY evidence of misdoing. And thus, we are here with BSY passing with flying colors in both the tests that he was subjected to.

Unlike the previous high command, the current President of BJP needs to be patted on his back for putting faith in BSY. In April this year, BSY was made BJP president of the Karnataka unit, settling the leadership question within the faction-ridden party in the state. Within the party, Yeddyurappa’s position gets strengthened as all other leaders — from Ananth Kumar to Sadananda Gowda to Jagdish Shettar to Eshwarappa — will have to rally around him, whether they like it or not.  BSY has started touring the entire state of Karnataka and has been attracting huge crowds everywhere.

Karnataka politics has been mostly dominated by Vokkaligas and Lingayats since independence. Out of the 19 Chief Ministers in Karnataka since Independence, seven have been Lingayat and five Vokkaliga, a telling indicator of their dominance in politics. While Lingayats have traditionally supported BJP the Vokkaliga votes have split between JD-S [H.D. Devegowda’s party] and INC. Vokkaligas make about 14% of the population while Lingayats make about 17%. It shows that having support of just one major caste doesn’t automatically guarantee the CM post in Karnataka.

One pattern that is becoming a bit evident since 2014 election is that Indians seem to be voting for a person more than voting for a party or just on caste lines. We saw this in Assam elections where Sarbanandab Sonowalhas won some seats for BJP in Muslim dominated constituencies and this seems to be the case in the recent Mayoral elections in Maharashtra.

It is also being said that the 75 years rule for BJP ministers and CMs maybe relaxed for him. The BJP chief will be 75 in February 2018, three months before Karnataka goes to polls. But the understanding is that he will still be projected as CM candidate and should he go on to lead the BJP to victory, be sworn in as CM as well. He may then effect some decent changes in Karnataka [like Dev Fadnavis in Maharashtra] until the 2019 election, after which he may choose his own successor. It is hoped that under BSY’s leadership BJP will be able to repeat, if not exceed, the 43% vote share it got in the 2014 election. While the ruling party is debating to do a bandh or not, BJP has sounded the bugle for next year’s election. With the declaration yesterday in Bengaluru by Amit Shah that BSY will be BJP’s CM candidate, he will soon be back in the limelight of the Karnataka politics again.