When you think of the BJP in Karnataka – the first name and face that comes to mind for many is that of BS Yediyurappa. The powerful leader from the dominant Lingayat community was the very first BJP chief minister in the south of India. He was sworn in as the Chief Minister many times over – but could never complete his term.
His first resignation from the post followed allegations of corruption – corruption charges have followed the leader for years.
His last stretch as the Chief Minister ended just over a year ago, when he tearfully announced his resignation from the post after much speculation that the high command wanted him gone following growing dissatisfaction with his style of functioning and allegations of interference in governance by his son, Vijayendra.
But given his charisma and following, when the party leadership finally decided that the state would have a new Chief Minister, they went for one approved by Mr Yediyurappa himself. Basavaraj Bommai, a Yediyurappa loyalist – is also from the Lingayat community and the BJP would have hoped that the Lingayats – generally considered a BJP vote bank – would be mollified that a member from that community would take the place of the one who was leaving.
Mr Yediyurappa is 79, well over the 75 age-limit usually set for holding administrative positions by the BJP. But the party has given him a pass in this respect. And he now been elevated to membership of the BJP Parliamentary Board.
Karnataka’s elections are just a few months away – while Mr Yediyurappa sees his new role as strengthening the party across South India – his main focus would need to be on his home state.
On Thursday, Arun Singh, the BJP’s National General Secretary in charge of the election bound state reached Bengaluru to talk to party leaders. And soon after that meeting, Mr Yediyurappa and Mr Bommai left for the temple town of Tirupati in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh.
Mr Yediyurappa’s team described the visit to Tirupati as one meant just for a darshan.
Sources close to the Chief Minister said the reason was the naming of Mr Yediyurappa to the Parliamentary Board – and that it had nothing to do with growing speculation that Mr Bommai was soon to be replaced.
Karnataka has been facing communal disturbances over the last few months – with gruesome murders of people from different communities in the volatile coastal region. Mr Yediyurappa’s own district of Shivamogga has not been spared – it witnessed communal violence on Independence Day.
The violence has put pressure on his successor, Mr Bommai, adding to the talk that he would be shown the door and that somebody new brought in to take his place. The Chief Minister cancelled celebrations in late July of the anniversary of his being sworn in as the Chief Minister to travel instead to the communally-disturbed areas.
Officially, any change of Chief Minister is being denied. Party spokesperson, S Prakash, told NDTV, “Any change of leadership at this stage would affect the BJP adversely. These are only rumours spread by vested interests.”
Sources close to Mr Bommai claimed to NDTV that a call came in the Chief Minister from the PMO a few days ago – asking why this speculation of a change in leadership had been growing and asking the CM to find the source of this – and who had been talking against him. The sources said Mr Bommai was reminded during that phone call, that Amit Shah had said the state would go to elections under the leadership of Mr Bommai.
It is said that the talk of leadership change is originating from local leaders in Karnataka – those who want to see such a change happen in state leadership.
The situation was not helped by the leak of audio that had Law Minister Madhuswamy saying the government was not running but was just being managed. The minister later said he had been provoked to make the comment.
With elections just months away, the ruling BJP certainly does not need all this right now. The party does have to approach the elections as a cohesive unit, and any resentments need to be sorted out – and quickly. But would this include a change in leadership? So close to the elections, that might be a move that would backfire. But Indian politics is a game of uncertainties.