While some say Yediyurappa’s moderate stand is shrewd politics, many others close to him insist that while he is personally a deeply religious man, he does not harbour communal hate.

BS Yediyurappa wearing a saffron scarf, and has his hand folded Facebook/ Yediyurappa
news Politics Sunday, July 25, 2021 - 14:19

On 6 April 2020, BS Yediyurappa warned that anyone communalising the incidents of members of the Tablighi Jamaat testing positive for the coronavirus will be dealt with sternly. He was trolled by several right wing accounts, many belonging to the IT cell of his own party and by leaders of the Sangh Parivar. The anti-Muslim rhetoric that was being pushed by the BJP after the Tablighi Jamaat congregation in Delhi was rubbished by one of their own. A BJP Chief Minister threatening action against the dog whistling did not go well with the right-wing ecosystem. 

Many senior leaders of the Karnataka BJP have echoed strong support of communally controversial pet projects of the Sangh and BJP. While Karnataka under CM Yediyurappa has adopted some of them including the Karnataka Prevention of Slaughter and Preservation of Cattle Bill 2020, many other similar policies have not been implemented. This despite many senior leaders and ministers of Yediyurappa’s cabinet openly backing them. 

Read: Will know decision by evening: BS Yediyurappa on Karnataka CM replacement

Take for example the contentious National Register of Citizens (NRC). In 2019, when many BJP-ruled states in the country vociferously spoke in favour of its implementation, Karnataka’s Home Minister, Basavaraj Bommai, had announced that the state too will follow suit. Yediyurappa, however, chose silence. When BJP General Secretary CT Ravi said Karnataka too would bring in law to curb ‘love jihad’ in the state, like in Uttar Pradesh, and found support among many ministers, Yediyurappa refused to hold a single meeting to even discuss the proposed bill. When clamour for a UP-like population control bill was mooted for Karnataka too, Yediyurappa’s CMO stood by logic and clarified that Karnataka has no need for such a law. But it will be a misrepresentation to say that Yediyurappa’s BJP has completely stayed away from communalism. Karnataka’s coast witnessed polarisation most visibly during Yediyurappa’s second term as CM. Under his Chief Ministership, the notorious pub attack, church attacks took place in Mangaluru. After he took office as CM in 2019, within the first three days, the government cancelled celebrations of Tipu Jayanthi. From the infamous DJ Halli riots to police brutality on the anti-CAA protesters in Mangaluru, his current term has also been marred by such incidents. 

While his supporters may argue that Yediyurappa was not the force behind all of this, as the CM the buck stops with him. While some say his moderate stand on several issues is shrewd politics, many others close to him insist that while he is personally a deeply religious man, he does not harbour communal hate. 

Vidya Dinakar, an activist who has worked against communalism in coastal Karnataka worries who the next Chief Minister would be. “Someone like Ananth Kumar Hegde taking charge, for example, would be a body blow. As someone working towards healing wounds caused by communal conflict and holding constitutional authorities responsible for hate crimes, I think he comes across as an anti-constitutional force.” 

“Whereas Yediyurappa, in my understanding, has avoided playing divisive communal politics. I have heard of several instances when Muslim groups would meet him, try to convince him of something and if he sees reason in their argument, he would immediately respond positively despite the possibility of his party being uncomfortable. He appears to not strictly go by communal calculations. If the leadership was rabid then we would have seen a different play on the ground, much like other states,” Vidya adds.

Senior journalist Sugata Srinivasraju, however, opines that many leaders may make extreme statements in public now but whoever replaces Yediyurappa will have to go by political arithmetic making it infeasible for them to be hardliners. “They can continue with it (communal statements) only if the BJP manages to spread its ideological agenda evenly across the state which I do not think to be possible. So far they have only been partially successful only in the coastal region. In Chikmagalur, Udupi, Dakshina Kannada and Uttara Kannada districts, it has worked,” he tells TNM.

“Even in the Mumbai-Karnataka region, more than the ideology, it is the Lingayat identity that works. Hyderabad-Karnataka region has a dual identity with influence of Persian, Dakhni, Urdu and Nizams. If you bring such communal rhetoric it will fail. So whoever becomes the BJP’s next CM, they have to be reconciliatory. They will try to be communal but it will not work. And Yediyurappa realised this a long time ago,” he adds.  

Political commentator Chandan Gowda says that the BJP has two tasks on their hand: to find someone to manage the government well for the next two years and another to find someone who can also lead the party in the next elections. “How will the party balance both these imperatives remains to be seen. Will they choose an ideological hardliner as CM with the expectation that that is what the party needs in the state? Or, will they find someone like Yeddyurappa who was not an ideological hardliner to be that person? Clearly, the choice made in this regard will mean different consequences for the traditions of cultural democracy in Karnataka,” Chandan Gowda tells TNM.

Many BJP leaders in Delhi say that one of the main reasons the senior leadership did not fully trust Yediyurappa is because having built his own loyal base, he did not feel obligated to the high command. As he built the party in Karnataka much before the Modi-Shah duo took over the party nationally, they cannot mould him as per their wishes. Moreover, the resistance to Yediyurappa and his sons closely controlling the party had attracted a lot of discord. With even BJP leaders pointing to alleged corruption by Yediyurappa’s family, it became difficult for him to hold onto the seat.

While leaders like CT Ravi and Prahalad Joshi have the right mix of loyalty and Hindutva hardline combination, other leaders like Ashwatha Narayan, Suresh Kumar and Basavaraj Bommai are seen as moderate leaders. 

But with his exit imminent and with a new era of politics all set to begin by the Karnataka BJP, the choice of his replacement will be crucial for Karnataka and how secular its politics will be.

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