The BJP added insult to injury by appointing not one but three deputy chief ministers to nursemaid him when he did take over the hot seat.
With the BJP’s unprecedented byelection sweep in Karnataka on Monday, winning 12 of 15 seats, the lone saffron bastion in the South has again bucked the nationwide trend, saving the blushes of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and home minister Amit Shah after the recent Maharashtra embarrassment where they were outmanoeuvred by an unhappy ally.
But will that mean the Modi-Shah duo will give the party’s unquestionable new star, chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa, a free hand now that he has a majority of 117 in the 224-member Assembly?
In winning the “dirty dozen”, all former Congress and Janata Dal(S) strongholds, Mr Yediyurappa hasn’t just wiped out his rivals in the Opposition, he’s ended the myth that party affiliations matter more to voters than loyalty to candidates. Not lost in the victory din, he’s sent a message to the BJP top brass that his popularity isn’t restricted to Lingayat strongholds. This is after all the first time that the BJP has made inroads into the Vokkaliga belt in the Cauvery delta, winning K.R. Pete in Mandya. The Congress and the JD(S) both paid the price for over-confidence. The Congress is reduced to just two seats, and JD(S) to zero. Congress’ Siddaramaiah may be looking at the end of the road, while the family-run JD(S) has clearly hit rock bottom.
But here’s the thing — Mr Yediyurappa in sending his son to manage Mandya, bring in the votes from his native Bookanakere village, was sending a not so subtle message to Amit Shah, who had denied his son Vijayendra a ticket to fight against Siddaramaiah’s son in Varuna in 2018, that he’s no pushover.
In emerging as the only BJP leader who had the courage to pursue his own agenda, which was at complete variance with the Modi-Shah plan for Karnataka, Mr Yediyurappa also signalled that neither age nor the threat to banish him to the “margdarshak” club like L.K. Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi, was going to stop him. The BJP’s handpicked strategists had seen to it that neither Mr Modi nor Mr Shah fully backed the ageing patriarch’s plan to topple the H.D. Kumaraswamy’s government. But that didn’t stop the 76-year-old Lingayat strongman from pulling the rug from under the unnatural JD(S)-Congress setup.
The BJP added insult to injury by appointing not one but three deputy chief ministers to nursemaid him when he did take over the hot seat. That one of them could still be brought in to succeed him is a possibility, but clearly the BJP will do well not to underestimate Mr Yediyurappa, who is well aware that the BJP’s long-term plan is to bring in a leader who isn’t defined by caste, as they did in Haryana and Maharashtra. With this victory, the BJP chief minister is hoping he will finally complete a full term in office. He simply cannot be challenged. Not from within. Not from without. And certainly not by the Prime Minister. Or the home minister.