It’s strange but true. BJP’s Bihar defeat has brought a smile on the face of Karnataka’s former chief minister Yeddyurappa. The leader who brought BJP, the first government in South India was pushed behind the curtains by the central leadership after Lok sabha elections, even after merging his party KJP with BJP. Since last 15 months, Yeddyurappa has been given no responsibility in the party in state or in the government in central. But equations are changing now. If Modi and Amit Shah decide to learn any lessons from recent assembly poll debacles, Yeddyurappa will be back as BJP president in Karnataka anytime soon. The Central leadership of BJP doesn’t have any choice. If they want to regain power in Karnataka in 2018, they may have to hand over the baton to their only mass leader B. S. Yeddyurappa, irrespective of his tainted past record.
BJP’s Bihar loss has once again shown the importance of regional satraps in state assembly elections. It is once again evident that parachuting leaders from Delhi and putting up a blitzkrieg campaign will not yield electoral victory in a state election. It needs meticulous groundwork and deep grass root connection. Unfortunately, B.S Yeddyurappa is the only leader that BJP has in Karnataka who can deliver this for BJP. Yeddyurappa had lost his credibility when he got entangled in corruption cases as the chief minister, but in Karnataka he still has not lost his popularity. If Yeddyurappa could garner 9.8% vote for his party KJP, during the peak of his unpopularity in 2013 state election, can do enough damage to BJP even now.
There is a similarity between Lalu Prasad Yadav and B.S Yeddyurappa. Both of them are perceived as the most corrupt politicians in their respective states (though Yeddyurappa is not convicted like Lalu for any corruption yet). But still they are the king makers in state politics. They have the ability to consolidate their caste vote in favor of any party or swing away from any party. Yeddyurappa did latter in 2013 state elections. Had BJP, KJP and Sriramulu’s BSR congress fought election together, then unpopular BJP would have got 86 seats. Congress would have reduced to 93 and JDS to 34. This was proved in the last Lok sabha election results, where KJP and BSR congress merged with BJP got 17 and Congress won just 9, reversing the state assembly election trend. Any prudent election analyst can easily understand the impact and importance of Yeddyurappa in Karnataka politics.
Of course, Yeddyurappa with corruption cases pending in the courts can be a liability for the BJP in the national level, but in the state he is still an asset. With the Bihar election results, Yeddyurappa has got his voice and courage back to convince his party central leadership. Unfortunately Bihar results show people are not really bothered about corruption, if you are a mass leader. If not, convicted Lalu’s RJD would not have emerged as the single largest party in Bihar recently. What Lalu is for Yadavs in Bihar, Yeddyurappa is for Lingayats in Karnataka. With their clout, they can swing the political game in the way they want. Lalu’s recent victory would be a reference point for Yeddyurappa to convince BJP leaders if they raise his corruption charges and also for Modi-Shah duo to reckon with.
Yeddyurappa’s traditional vote bank is both boon and bane for BJP. Although Yeddyurappa doesn’t enjoy the confidence among all the Lingayats in Karnataka, his influence is dominant among the Lingayats of Mumbai-Karnataka. In Shimoga region, his popularity has grown beyond caste, as he did noticeable developmental work when he was chief minister of the state. However, the he doesn’t enjoy the same affection in Mysore and Hyderabad Karnataka, but still he has consolidated support base which can enough to thwart BJP’s victory in this area. Whichever the way BJP thinks, except in Urban Bangalore and in Costal Karnataka without the support of B.S.Yadyurappa winning next state election will be almost impossible.
With current BJP state, President Prahlad Joshi’s term coming to end in a couple of months pressure is mounting on central BJP leadership. Now, state congress is also mulling of appointing their president from Lingayat community, to split the core BJP vote Bank. If Shamsanur Shivshankarappa becomes Congress president it will have immediate ramification on BJP strategy. BJP may have to bring only Lingayat leader as their state president to reinforce the faith on their traditional vote bank. Except Yeddyurappa currently BJP does not have any tall leader from this community. Yeddyurappa could be a default choice in this scenario.
Questions often arise: Is Karnataka a Bihar? Whether the caste plays a predominant role even in a developed state like Karnataka? Unfortunately, the answer is ‘Yes’. The empirical study of the voting pattern of recent state elections shows that BJP won the election when there was a solid consolidation of Lingayat vote in its favor. It lost badly in 2013 when there was split in its traditional vote bank. Here, Siddarmaya had won the election with unique caste combination called ‘ Ahinda’ ( Minority, Backward Caste, SC). Except in Costal Karnataka and Bangalore Urban, caste still plays a significant role in the electoral outcome in Karnataka. Yeddyurappa proved time and again that he is the only mass leader in BJP. Big crowds he drew in the recent Raitha Chaitanya are just a vindication of the fact that nobody in the state can match his popularity. Hence, BJP can’t neglect Yeddyurappa.
In fact, BJP’s Bihar defeat once again instilled hope with him. If BJP had won the Bihar election Yeddyurappa’s bid to become the state president would have challenged by his arch rival in the party, union minister Ananta Kumar. Kumar, who was identified as a staunch acolyte of Advani, is getting cozy with Modi in recent days. He was one of the architects of BJP’s poll strategy in Bihar. Had BJP won the election in Bihar, the position of Ananta Kumar would have strengthened in central, which could be a threat for Yeddyurappa. There were some political gossips that after BJP’s surprise performance in Bangalore BBMP elections, central leadership had contemplated to project Kumar as CM candidate in next state elections in Karnataka. With BJP’s rout Anant Kumar’s dreams are dusted.
Yeddyurappa had the last laugh. But is it enough for him to get into the helm of state BJP?
- Shreesha Punacha, email@example.com
(Author is keen political observer and Assistant Professor in Ministry of higher Education in Sultanate of Oman. He tweets using @shreeshapunacha