Former Karnataka chief minister BS Yeddyurappa has once again sent out signals to his party, using the BJP’s Bihar debacle to suggest that he be brought back to state politics. Whether or not this will be possible depends on numerous factors, but recent developments in the state suggest that when the time comes, Yeddyurappa may be able to bargain from a position of strength.
Speaking to reporters in his home district of Shivamogga recently, Yeddyurappa said that the BJP should have focused on the regional leadership.
“Nitish Kumar is a big leader in Bihar. Victory was possible (for the grand alliance) because he was projected as a local leader. Even in Karnataka, the party must think of local leaders,” Yeddyurappa said.
This remark stands out because ever since he was made national vice-president after the last Lok Sabha elections, Yeddyurappa has been cautious. He has avoided controversies and has been measured in his responses on any issue to the media, except perhaps when criticising the Congress government in the state.
But while he has often said in the past that he wishes to return to the state and contribute to the party leadership in Karnataka, recent political developments at the national may have prompted him to remind the party that he did deliver when he was around. However, politcs at the state level may ultimately determine whether he can repeat his magic.
Yeddyurappa is still a mass leader who draws big crowds as the recent Raitha Chaitanya rallies have shown. For two weeks, Yeddyurappa led several farmers’ rallies in the state attended by thousands of people, including in chief minister Siddaramaiah’s home district of Mysuru. While farmers represent one constituency of Yeddyurappa’s supporters, another is the Lingayat community which is largely concentrated in north Karnataka.
Although Yeddyurappa is the BJP's safest bet, the party will need to nurture more leaders, especially in the Hyderabad-Karnataka region.
Yeddyurappa has an almost certain captive vote bank in the Lingayat community of Mumbai-Karnataka. The same however, cannot be said of the Lingayats of Hyderabad-Karnataka, which has had a different historical trajectory. The Hyderabad-Karnataka region, which was under the administration of the Nizam of Hyderabad before independence and with Hyderabad state, until the linguistic re-organization of states in 1956, has to this day, remained backward. This backwardness has united the region in a way that the BJP may not be able to break very easily.
For people in the HK region, including the Lingayats, the grouse against the BJP is two-fold. Recently, the central government approved an IIT for Dharwad, instead of Raichur. This move has been perceived as a slight not just by the people of Raichur district, but as a slight to the whole region. There is a strong feeling that they have been denied yet again as they believe that an IIT in Raichur would have had a cascading effect on all the six districts of the region.
Currently, it has become difficult for BJP leaders to face the people of the region, because the denial of an IIT to Raichur, against the recommendation of the Nanjundaswamy committee, is widely perceived as the handiwork of Dharwad-based BJP leaders such as Jagadish Shettar, HN Ananth Kumar and Prahlad Joshi.
They feel that although Siddaramaiah made a mistake by allowing three names to be recommended, he has redeemed himself by writing to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and urging that the centre reconsider its decision and allot the IIT to Raichur instead of Dharwad.
Also, the BJP has no strong face in the region, and it never did. Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge is a giant, whose influence is strong. Not only are his efforts in attempting to bring the IIT to Raichur evident, he is also perceived as the driving force that obtained special status for the region in 2012. In the past, when the question of special status for the HK region came up before the NDA government under Vajpayee, it had been rejected.
In the Malnad and Karavali regions of Karnataka, the BJP has its support base, largely on the Hindutva plank. On Friday, the bandh called by the VHP and Bajrang Dal had been more successful in these regions than in other parts of the state, where the response has been lukewarm.
The BJP does have strong leaders in Karnataka, but whether or not there is one leader to hold them together is unclear. The Congress is in disarray and although the assembly elections are two-and-a-half years away, there is still plenty that could go wrong in the BJP, due to infighting.
Although Yeddyurappa headed the Raitha Chaitanya rallies, he had first suggested that the BJP form units to study farmer suicides in the state. The BJP did form such a panel, but its six teams did not include Yeddyurappa. Then, the party had sought to hide the differences within in ranks by saying that Yeddyurappa had to attend to responsibilities as the national vice-president. It has not gone unnoticed.