The BJP has to keep these circumstances in mind though it has had to ease out the Lingayat leader on account of his age
The resignation of Karnataka chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa, which was on the cards for some time, came on Monday, the second anniversary of his government after the Lingayat leader turned a minority into a majority for the BJP in 2019 through “Operation Kamal” — the name given to the manoeuvre of getting Opposition MLAs to resign and contest by-elections on the BJP ticket. Thus was brought down the Congress-JD(S) government that came to power after the 2018 Assembly election.
The defection manoeuvre amply shows that the BJP is not able to form government in the state on its own even if Mr Yediyurappa has taken the saffron party to rural areas in the past 15 years and ensured the allegiance of the Lingayat community, the largest caste bloc.
This is why the BJP cannot afford to treat the outgoing CM lightly, and is likely to accommodate his wishes in the selection of his successor. It is noteworthy that Mr Yediyurappa is not a Modi protégé. He made his mark as a farmer leader and not as a Hindutva protagonist though his association with the RSS makes clear his moorings.
The BJP has to keep these circumstances in mind though it has had to ease out the Lingayat leader on account of his age. The party has to weigh the prospect of going into the next state polls under the leadership of an 80-year old, and then bet on him remaining in good shape. In addition to age-related matters, there were also strong allegations from within the BJP of the outgoing CM’s nepotism and corruption, which was taking a toll of the saffron party’s reputation in the only state in south India were it has managed to form a government. In 2012, too, Mr Yediyurappa had been obliged to put in his papers on corruption-related charges.
The perception of lack of probity has clung to the tallest BJP leader in Karnataka, and this has raised ambitions of other Lingayat and non-Lingayat leaders in the party to aspire to the CM’s position. A weak point is the block of 16 defector MLAs who had been lured with the prospect of being made ministers or compensated suitably otherwise. With Mr Yediyurappa, their patron, gone, they are likely to be fearful of the changing scenario. The BJP’s difficulties can increase if the Congress can overcome its factional cracks and form bridges with JD(S).
The BJP’s top priority will be to win the next Assembly election in 2023, and select Mr Yediyurappa’s successor accordingly while keeping the outgoing CM in good humour. This is not a small ask. In north India, typically, the BJP is seldom faced with a challenge of this nature on account of the wider spread of the RSS that goes back decades. Also, Mr Yediyurappa is a mass leader unlike most BJP leaders in other states. Although the taint of corruption sticks to him, so does his mass following. The central BJP leadership — in effect, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union home minister Amit Shah — will need to be mindful of this as they decide on Karnataka’s next CM.