Yediyurappa countdown on as CM? He says party will take decision today

BJP faces multiple challenges as it looks to replace Yediyurappa, a Lingayat strongman credited with ensuring the party’s first-ever govt in the south.

File photo of Karnataka Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa | ANI

New Delhi: The speculation surrounding B.S. Yediyurappa’s continuation as Karnataka chief minister is likely to end Sunday. Yediyurappa, 78, said the BJP high command would tell him by evening whether he would be continuing on the post.

Out to inspect the impact of floods in Belgaum district, Yediyurappa spoke to the media at the Sambra airport. By the time he reaches Bengaluru, he will receive a message, Yediyurappa said in response to reporters’ queries. 

“If it comes, you will also get to know about it. Once the message comes, I will take an appropriate decision,” he added. 

Asked about a mega conclave organised Sunday by seers of the Lingayat community — to which Yediyurappa belongs — as a show of strength for the chief minister, he said “there is no need for the pontiffs to hold the meeting”. 

“I have confidence in PM Narendra Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah and BJP president J.P. Nadda,” he added.

The speculation about Lingayat strongman Yediyurappa’s departure as CM has gained ground in recent weeks on the back of allegations of corruption and nepotism lobbed at Yediyurappa by local BJP leaders. There has also been resentment in the BJP brass over what is seen as Yediyurappa’s unilateral functioning, with the party also said to be looking to bring in a younger leader. 

The BJP is looking at Lingayat substitutes for Yediyurappa, with two Brahmins also on the shortlist, party sources told ThePrint.

However, there are concerns about the potential impact of such a decision on the state’s Lingayat community, which comprises around 17 per cent of Karnataka’s population. The Lingayats have traditionally voted for the BJP and are believed to influence the outcome of elections in around 100 of the state’s 224 assembly seats.

Over the past week alone, seers from different mutts — particularly those of the Lingayat community — have met the CM at least twice in meetings that have been seen as shows of strength for Yediyurappa.

On Sunday, more than 1,000 Lingayat seers held a demonstration where they warned the BJP leadership of consequences if Yediyurappa is removed. 

While Yediyurappa distanced himself from the demonstration, it is seen as a message to the BJP. On Friday, when Yediyurappa’s son and heir apparent B.Y. Vijayendra met Nadda to convince him that the meetings with seers had not been organised by the CM, the BJP president is believed to have told him that religious leaders should not be involved in the matter.


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Challenge for BJP

In his latest stint as chief minister, Yediyurappa was sworn in in July 2019, after the erstwhile JD(S)-Congress government collapsed following multiple defections.

On Saturday, virtually inaugurating a project worth Rs 1,074 crore in his home district Shivamogga, Yediyurappa made what appeared to be a farewell speech. 

“I am satisfied that in the last two years we have put maximum effort for the development of Shivamogga district, although our journey was full of hurdles from Day One,” he said. 

“Since the day I took charge as chief minister, I have had to face several challenges like natural disasters that the state never faced in the past and the Covid pandemic, which has taken lives. Now, once again, there is a flood situation,” he added. 

With the state facing a flood situation in several districts, the BJP leadership is debating the timing and possible replacement of Yediyurappa. Their main challenge is to strike a fine balance between the Lingayats and the Vokkaligas — another important caste, comprising roughly 15 per cent of the population and known to be locked in a power tussle with the former — in selecting a replacement and finding a leader who has the capacity to take along other party seniors with a clear goal of re-election in the 2023 assembly polls and ensuring a big haul in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. 

Over the past few days, the BJP high command has met many Karnataka leaders and taken feedback from different quarters about replacing Yediyurappa.

“It is not an easy task,” said a BJP leader. “It is like a gamble, knowing Yediyurappa’s solid support in the crucial Lingayat community, but the party has to move forward for the younger leadership that can lead the party for the next 10 years,” the leader added.

“Since Lingayats form the biggest support base, it is quite natural to name a candidate from the Lingayat community, which constitutes 17 per cent of the population,” said the leader. “Antagonising the Lingayats could cost us,” the leader added, citing the BJP’s 2013 defeat. 

Having broken away from the BJP, Yediyurappa had contested the 2013 elections with his own party. The BJP was subsequently reduced to 40 seats in the assembly, with the Congress winning the election. Yediyurappa, whose party got 10 per cent of the vote, returned to the BJP before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

The Congress, too, suffered repercussions when Veerendra Patil — a Lingayat leader of the party who led the Congress to its biggest victory in the state (179 seats) — was dismissed by the party high command in 1990 for his alleged defiance. In the following election, in 1994, the Congress was reduced to 36 seats, while the BJP’s voteshare rose to 17 per cent from 4 per cent. 

Yediyurappa eventually established himself as the tallest leader of the Lingayats in the state and helped the BJP form its first — and only so far — government in the south.

Of Karnataka’s 22 chief ministers so far, nine have been from the dominant Lingayat community. 

The shortlist

According to BJP sources, the Lingayat leaders being looked at as potential substitutes for Yediyurappa are — Mining and Geology Minister and businessman Murugesh Nirani, who has a good equation with Amit Shah, Arvind Bellad, who is a known Yediyurappa detractor but a newcomer in politics, the late former CM S.R. Bommai’s son Basavraj Bommai, who is the state’s home minister, and known Yediyurappa baiter Basangouda Patil Yatnal, who was a minister in the Vajpayee cabinet and has a strong RSS connect.

BJP sources said while experience favours Yavatmal, legacy gives an edge to Bommai, as he is also in the good books of Yediyurappa. While Murugesh and Arvind are new faces, the latter’s lack of experience could be an impediment, sources added.

Laxman Savadi, another Lingayat leader and deputy chief minister, is also believed to be a strong contender. 

Two Brahmin faces on the shortlist are Union minister Pralhad Joshi, a former state BJP president who was groomed under the late Ananth Kumar, and B.L. Santhosh.

Sources said Santhosh is a strong contender to lead the state if the party brass decides to divest him of the “huge responsibility” he holds as BJP general secretary (organisation).

While the selection of a Brahmin, a community that only comprises 3 per cent of the state’s population, may antagonise the Lingayats, it may suit Yediyurappa, as his son Vijayendra could be inducted as the government’s Lingayat face. Yediyurappa, it is said, wants Vijayendra to be inducted as deputy CM or state BJP chief after his exit.

While Vokkaligas C.T. Ravi and deputy CM Ashwath Narayan are also being considered, they are unlikely to be chosen to prevent upsetting the Lingayats.

(Edited by Sunanda Ranjan)


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