BS Yediyurappa, who was sworn in as the Chief Minister of Karnataka over two months ago after overthrowing the Congress-JD(S) coalition, is now faced with another problem – his dwindling power within the BJP’s Karnataka unit. Since the 1980s, Yediyurappa has been the face of the BJP in Karnataka but with the high command looking for his replacement and even grooming a few second-rung leaders to take over, Yediyurappa is fighting hard to retain his position of power.
When the trouble began
On July 15, 2019, BL Santosh was appointed as the BJP’s National General Secretary (Organisation). A staunch RSS man, Santosh was elevated in order to act as an intermediary between the Sangh and the BJP’s national high command.
Santosh’s elevation was also crucial, sources say, as it was done to give him free reign to the party’s expansion plans in the southern states. Another crucial reason to elevate Santosh, BJP sources say, was to keep a check on BS Yediyurappa’s role in Karnataka politics.
“The BJP has been branded the Lingayat party in Karnataka and the perception that Yediyurappa is the one who holds all the power and the only mass leader in the BJP here (Karnataka) needed to be changed,” the source said.
The BJP in Karnataka has enjoyed the support of the Lingayat community for decades now and the party wants to expand its voter base and also ensure that it has sufficient number of leaders to step into Yediyurappa’s shoes once he retires from active politics.
BL Santosh, who speaks Tulu, Kannada, Tamil, English and Hindi, is also a close confidante of Union Home Minister Amit Shah. Santosh was responsible for the BJP’s Sabarimala campaign in Kerala. In addition, he is credited with forging the BJP’s alliance with the AIADMK in Tamil Nadu. Santosh was also given the responsibility of choosing candidates from Karnataka for the Lok Sabha elections in 2019.
Santosh’s rise to the top is also a sign that the RSS’ influence over the party is bound to increase.
Nalin Kumar Kateel and the three Deputy CMs
On August 21 this year, Nalin Kumar Kateel was appointed as the BJP state president after Yediyurappa stepped down from the post. The BJP, which has an unwritten rule that its leaders would retire from active politics after the age of 75, made an exception for Yediyurappa and also appointed him as the Chief Minister. This also meant that the party had to start scouting for new faces while gradually taking away responsibilities from Yediyurappa’s shoulders. The high command ensured this by appointing three Deputy Chief Miniters – Laxman Sangappa Savadi, Dr CN Ashwathnarayan and Govind Karjol. BJP insiders say that the party is grooming Savadi to step into Yediyurappa’s shoes.
“Yediyurappa wanted his son BY Raghavendra to take over the reins of the party once he retired. He wanted his close associates Aravind Limbavali and Renukacharya to be in the forefront. But the high command wanted to do away with the perception that BJP caters to only Lingayats,” sources said.
Nalin Kumar Kateel, who is a close associate of BL Santosh, was appointed in order to establish that the BJP would prioritise the elevation of its leaders indigenous to the party rather than choose those who had ‘migrated’ from other parties.
The high command has also given Nalin Kateel free reign to make certain decisions and even overturn Yediyurappa’s choices. The appointment of Bengaluru Mayor Goutham Kumar too was a result of the power struggle between Yediyurappa and Nalin Kateel.
The game of one-upmanship and the factions
On September 28, the BJP reinstated Nirmal Kumar Surana and MB Bhanuprakash, two leaders who were expelled from the party in 2017 by Yediyurappa. In 2017, the feud between Yediyurappa and his rival – the incumbent Minister for Rural Development and Panchayat Raj, KS Eshwarappa, over the Sangolli Rayanna Brigade, was at its peak. In May that year, Yediyurappa expelled these two leaders for supporting Eshwarappa’s idea of forming the Sangolli Rayanna Brigade.
The Sangolli Rayanna Brigade was conceptualised by BL Santosh in order to break into former Chief Minister Siddaramaiah’s vote bank of Kurubas and also make Eshwarappa the face of the movement.
Soon after Surana and Bhanuprakash were reinstated, Yediyurappa’s close associate Bheemashankar Patil, the vice president of the BJP Yuva Morcha, wrote to Nalin Kumar Kateel stating that neglecting Yediyurappa would spell trouble for the party.
Sources close to the Chief Minister say that Yediyurappa has warned the party that his support is crucial for the bye-polls.
Party sources said after Nirmal Kumara Surana and Bhanuprakash were reinstated, both Nalin Kumar Kateel and Yediyurappa have formed their own factions within the party.
However, sidelining Yediyurappa has not worked well for the BJP in the past. Six months after Yediyurappa was made to step down following a power tussle with BL Santosh in 2011, he formed the Karnataka Janata Paksha. This party won six seats in the 2013 assembly elections. Capturing 10% of the vote, KJP also ensured BJP’s defeat in 29 Assembly segments.
“BL Santosh and Nalin Kumar Kateel want to send a strong message that the BJP is a cadre-based party and no one person can hold the power of controlling the party’s fortunes,” the source said.