Even as Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraja Bommai is facing a barrage of criticism from BJP workers and Right Wing groups over the murder of Praveen Nettaru in Dakshina Kannada most party leaders chose to stay silent. The only leader who made a comment critical of the state leadership was BJP state Vice-President BY Vijayendra, who was in the news recently after being anointed the political heir of Shikaripura constituency in Shivamogga by his father, former Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa.
His reaction to the party cadres and Right Wing groups, who vented their ire against the Basavaraj Bommai government over the killing of BJP activist Praveen Kumar Nettaru, was that their “anger is understandable” and the central leadership “should take the incident seriously.'' While this might seem to be a casual response, the political overtone it carries cannot be dismissed. Even senior ministers and leaders in the state unit of the party maintained a stoic silence over the outpouring of anger against Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai and Home Minister Araga Jnanendra, the acknowledgement of their heartburn by Vijayendra seems to have struck a chord with the party's foot soldiers.
Another statement made by Vijayendra that the “morale of the party cadres is definitely very low,” is also being seen in BJP circles as an endorsement of the sentiment of ordinary party workers. “The morale of party workers is low as turncoats from the Congress and JD(S) are being accommodated in the Cabinet ignoring loyal and senior legislators. While the statement reportedly made by BJP MP Tejaswvi Surya that if it was a Congress government, stones would have been pelted deserves condemnation, Vijayendra spoke with conviction,'‘ said a BJP source.
The rise of 46-year-old Vijayendra was meteoric. That he was politically ambitious wasn’t lost on anyone when he overtook his elder brother and Shivamogga MP BY Raghavendra, who was initially seen as the political heir to Yediyurappa. Vijayendra's sunshine period was during Yediyurappa’s tenure as CM after dislodging the Kumaraswamy government in 2019. He was one of the key persons tasked with engineering the defection of Congress and JD(S) MLAs to the BJP.
It was during Yediyurappa's first stint as the CM from 2008 to 2011 that Vijayendra, as the BJP Yuva Morcha secretary, started positioning himself as his father's pointsman. He lobbied for the deputy CM's post after his father quit in 2021 but was unsuccessful. Vijayendra also incurred the wrath of BJP legislators for creating barriers between Yediyurappa and them.
Within a year of Yediyurappa assuming office of the CM in 2019, complaints against Vijayendra being a “Super CM” and running a parallel government surfaced. Unsigned letters reportedly written by a section of BJP MLAs were sent to the party’s leadership. Congress spokesperson based in Mysuru M Lakshman released a letter reportedly written by seven BJP MLAs to the high command accusing Vijayendra of functioning as “Super CM'' and allegedly indulging in corruption by taking commission, what they called as VST (Vijayendra Service Tax).
The major complaint against Vijayendra was “interference in administration,” an allegation levelled by dissident legislators AH Vishwanath, Basannagouda Patil (Yatnal) and C P Yogeshwara. Some of the senior Lingayat legislators saw no chance of their growth as Yediyurappa declined to see beyond his son.
According to a senior BJP functionary, who has seen Yediyurappa from close quarters, Vijayendra works with a small battalion, comprising second rung leaders and power mongers. He also has deft political manoeuvring skills. “He knows the internal functioning of the government, shortcomings of officials, is not communal or rabid and generous when it comes to spending,'' he added.
Another plus point is that he could be trusted with delivery of responsibilities. BJP sources cited the examples of the party winning the KR Pet in Mandya and Sira in Tumkur during bypolls. These were two Vokkaliga dominated constituencies where the BJP had never won before. He could not win Maski in Raichur district as the BJP candidate Pratapgouda Patil, who defected to the party from the Congress, was facing anti-incumbency and the result was known before the bypoll, BJP sources said.
BJP sources said politics now is all about money and muscle power, contacts and caste. Vijayendra has the skills in all these fronts, though he is not trusted in party circles, they said. “Prime Minister Narendra Modi's mantra of honesty and Hindutva cannot be applied equally to all states. If a corrupt and caste-ridden system is acceptable then one has to opt for this bad choice,'' they said.
The BJP central leadership reportedly is not happy with Vijayendra’s style of functioning and the message has been conveyed to Yediyurappa in the past. This is said to be the reason why Vijayendra was not given the ticket to contest from Varuna in Mysuru in the 2018 polls and denied a MLC seat recently. A party worker recalled that in 2018 all arrangements had been made in Varuna for Yediyurappa to announce his son's candidature. “Just 30 minutes before the function was to start, Yediyurappa got a call from a BJP leader in New Delhi saying his son was not getting the ticket. Infuriated party workers threw chairs and created a ruckus,'' the worker said.
With Yediyurappa ageing, BJP sees Vijayendra as an emerging Lingayat leader in the party, which presently does not have many influential leaders from the community. Even in Congress circles, Vijayendra is seen as a competitor for Lingayat leaders in their party. “The BJP wants a leader from central Karnataka, who is not rigid or rabid and is a money bag. Vijayendra fits the bill,'' they stated.