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BJP opts for brand overhaul in Karnataka as party face BS Yediyurappa steps down as chief minister

·6 min read

The resignation of Karnataka chief minister Bookanakere Siddalingappa Yediyurappa, usually referred to as BSY, from his position on 26 July marks the end of an era. It would not be too far off the mark to say that the BJP with this decision has opted for a brand overhaul in Karnataka, where Yediyurappa has been its face for decades €" the first and only BJP chief minister in the south thus far.

The 78-year-old Yediyurappa belongs to the older generation of politicians who started their service to the public as a teenager (in his case with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) and did not hail from either a political or an affluent family. He was born on 27 February, 1943, in a village called Bookanakere in K.R.Pet taluk of Mandya district to Siddalingappa and Puttathayamma and named after the presiding deity of a Shaivite temple.

Swayamsevak to hardware store owner

Starting as a clerk in the social welfare department in 1965, Yediyurappa later quit the job to join as a clerk at Veerabhadra Shastri's Shankara Rice Mill in Shikaripura, now his constituency. He eventually married Shastri's daughter Mythradevi in 1967 and set up a hardware shop in Shimoga.

Brush with fame and politics

It was not until 1972 that Yediyurappa's political career began when he was elected as councillor to the Shikaripura town municipality and appointed as the president of the Taluk unit of the Jana Sangh, BJP's forerunner. He was imprisoned during the Emergency and reelected as councillor in 1977. Yediyurappa also made a name for himself in the 1970s by championing the cause of landless agricultural workers and bonded labourers in Shivmoga. It was under his leadership that the movement for upholding the rights of unauthorised tenant farmers cultivating government land gained momentum.

From Shivmoga to Bengaluru

But Yeddyurappa's political career began in earnest in 1983 when he was first elected to the legislative Assembly from Shikaripura in 1983, a seat he went on to win eight more times. Recognising his political acumen, the central BJP leadership made him the president of the state unit four times and the national secretary in 1992. He also served as the opposition Leader in the legislative Assembly, member of legislative council and member of parliament.

The CM jinx

But despite his impressive performance and hard work to expand the BJP in the south, Yeddyurappa will always be remembered as the four-time Karnataka chief minister who was never able to complete his five-year tenure. Yediyurappa first became the chief minister on 12 November, 2007, but had to resign a week later on 19 November, 2007, after JD(S) refused to support his government over disagreement on sharing of ministries.

After this, he became the chief minister for the second time on 30 May, 2008, but had to resign on 4 August, 2011, under the pressure of BJP central leadership. This time the Karnataka Lokayukta investigating an illegal mining case against him submitted its report indicting him for illegally profiteering from land deals in Bangalore and Shimoga and illegal iron ore export in Bellary, Tumkur and Chitradurga districts of Karnataka.

Sulking after having been made to quit, Yediyurappa broke his decades-long association with the BJP and formed the Karnataka Janata Paksha. However, he failed to make the KJP a force to reckon with in state politics but wrecked the BJP's chances of retaining power in the 2013 polls, winning six seats and polling about 10 percent votes. As Yediyurappa faced an uncertain future and the BJP looked for a leader with a formidable reputation to lead its campaign ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the former announced the merger of the KJP with the BJP on January 9, 2014.

He became the chief minister for the third time on 17 May, 2018, and then again resigned on 19 May, 2018, just two days later ahead of a floor test citing his failure to prove his party's majority. He became the chief minister for the fourth time on July 26, 2019, after the coalition government of JDS and Congress crumbled after it failed the trust vote. On 26 July as his government completed two years in office, he tendered his resignation again.

Cost of controversies

Ever since August, when Yediyurappa tested positive for COVID-19, there have been rumours that his time as the chief minister was running out. But BJP brass continued to shoot down all such speculation even after the alleged audio leak where BJP state president Nalin Kumar Kateel was found hinting at a possible leadership change. Upon being quizzed, Kateel went on to dismiss the audio leak, calling Yediyurappa "our party's soul."

And yet, just seven days later, the "soul" of the party stepped down from his position. But the BJP's decision is being seen in the light of the party's unwritten rule of keeping out those above 75 years from elective offices and introducing fresh faces in the party ahead of the 2023 Assembly elections. But it cannot be forgotten that the Lingayat strongman has always been seen as the BJP's only leader with a mass connect in South India who wields considerable influence over the Veerashaiva-Lingayat community estimated at 16 percent of the state's population, which is considered to be the BJPs core support base. These factors became the main reason for the BJP opting for Yeddyurappa time and again despite the controversies related to graft and nepotism which plagued his political career.

Centre's gambit

But the sudden change in Karnataka's politics cannot be seen in isolation. Only recently BJP has been routed from both Kerala and Tamil Nadu, while both YSRC and TRS continue to enjoy popularity in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana respectively. The BJP, hence, cannot on all counts lose power in a state where its hold has anyway been precarious.

Meanwhile, resentment within the party against both Yediyurappa and his son, state BJP vice president BY Vijayendra, has been growing, so much so that the issue has reached New Delhi. Added to this, reports have it that there have been calls for a more pliable chief minister in Karnataka €" one who is more amenable to the directives of the Centre.

One recalls Yediyurappa's silence over the proposed Karnataka Prevention of Slaughter and Preservation of Cattle Bill 2020 or the contentious National Register of Citizens (NRC). But the question of who would succeed Yediyurappa remains. Will replacing him with another leader from the Lingayat community solve all BJP's problems in the state?

Also See: ‘Not resigning in grief, will help next CM’: Yediyurappa steps down from Karnataka top job

Karnataka CM Resigns Latest News Updates: Yediyurappa's constituency Shikaripura shuts down as mark of protest

BS Yediyurappa resigns as Karnataka CM: From Murugesh Nirani to BL Santhosh, front-runners for post

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