BJP's search for state prez: Will corruption taint and caste create hurdles for Yeddyurappa?

Yeddyurappa still remains the most popular leader BJP has in Karnataka, but will they make him state president?
BJP's search for state prez: Will corruption taint and caste create hurdles for Yeddyurappa?
BJP's search for state prez: Will corruption taint and caste create hurdles for Yeddyurappa?

BJP state president Prahlad Joshi’s term is up and the party is on the lookout for a new president. Naturally, former chief minister BS Yeddyurappa emerges as the strongest contender. However, he isn’t the only one who’s got his eye on the post, and it is going to be a tough, and possibly unpredictable, fight with either caste or corruption being the tipping factor.

Joshi’s term expired in October but the national leadership asked him to stay on until the zilla and taluk panchayat elections were completed. Despite the tom-toming, the BJP did not actually fare very well in the polls, a fact that might work in Yeddyurappa’s favour and give him leverage with the national leadership.

With the elections completed, the party is due to make a decision soon, but it has officially maintained that nothing has been decided yet. However, that is to be expected given that BJP state secretary CT Ravi, R Ashoka, and even former chief minister DV Sadananda Gowda are lobbying for the state’s top party post.

During the 2013 Assembly polls it became more than clear to everybody, including the BJP’s national leadership, that minus Yeddyurappa, the BJP’s numbers suffer when election results are announced. The party corrected itself during the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, and the result was a vindication for Yeddyurappa.

After the 2014 general elections, Yeddyurappa was made one of the 12 vice presidents of the party, but in the time that has passed since, he hasn’t lost an opportunity to say that he wishes to come back to Karnataka and play a bigger role “in the development of the state”.

Now, however, with the Karnataka High Court quashing the FIRs filed against him in connection with land denotification cases under the Prevention of Corruption Act, there may really be nothing standing in his way, except for the other aspirants for the post.

Therein, lies the conundrum. The party is considering the name of CT Ravi, Sadananda Gowda and Yeddyurappa for the top post but each choice presents its own problems in terms of balancing caste and corruption.

CT Ravi

In some ways, Yeddyurappa and CT Ravi represent two segments of BJP supporters in Karnataka, both influential at the hustings in their own ways: the Lingayats, and the people the Bajrang Dal and VHP have worked to rally behind the party.

The Lingayats are spread across north Karnataka and are not just numerically strong enough to swing votes, but are also very powerful socially. For several years, partially thanks to Yeddyurappa’s efforts, many Lingayat religious leaders have thrown their weight behind the BJP. However, except for a few pockets, such as Hubballi-Dharwad and Belagavi, Hindutva does not resonate much with people in northern Karnataka.

Lakshman Hoogar is a former journalist and political anaylist

Despite Yeddyurappa’s reduced time in the state since he was elevated to national vice president, the BJP could not develop any leader even remotely close to his stature in the party. The Lingayat community still considers Yeddyurappa as their leader, and will not take it lightly if their community is not given representation. Currently, that representation has been granted in the post of national vice present given to Yeddyurappa.

Elsewhere in the state, it is the Bajrang Dal and the VHP which have got BJP some traction. For several years, the votes of the rural poor traditionally went to the Congress in Indira Gandhi’s name. Today, however, the rural poor have stopped talking about “Indiramma” (Indira Gandhi) or “Indirammana sose” (Indira Gandhi’s daughter-in-law). However, Narendra Modi’s name has not replaced Indira Gandhi or Sonia Gandhi. Rather, it is the lotus that is popular, thanks to the combined efforts of the Bajrang Dal and VHP.

The Vokkaliga vote

The Vokkaliga community has traditionally been the vote bank of the Janata Dal (Secular), which has built its support base among the community through farmers’ movements and its stated (if not always implemented) commitment to secularism.

The zilla panchayat elections however, show that the JD (S) did not really fare very well in the party’s stronghold. The votes polled by the JD (S) are lower than what they should have been in areas such as Hebbal (Bengaluru) and Anekal (Ramnagara district) since they are in HD Kumaraswamy’s backyard. The Gowda votes are all concentrated in the old Mysore region: the Vokkaligas are a land-owning farmer community in three or four districts.

In the last few years, Kumaraswamy has done little but talk. The party’s engagement with peoples’ movements, especially the farmers’ struggles has reduced. Secondly, there is no second rung of leaders. BZ Zameer Ahmed, Cheluvaraswamy and Balakrishna have little say in the affairs of the party; Kumaraswamy appears to be running a one-man show. Ironically, the party’s symbol is a farmer (a woman in a green sari).

HN Ananth Kumar

Although both Yeddyurappa and Lok Sabha MP Ananth Kumar keep up the hugs and smiles in public, it’s an open secret that they don’t get along. Kumar has done everything in his power to pull Yeddyurappa down. Currently, sources say that he is backing Sadananda Gowda in order to maintain his own clout in the state: he gets elected from Bengaluru and needs a hold with the local leaders to ensure victory.

Gowda is unlikely to be made president, but he is one of the most influential leaders from the Vokkaliga community in the BJP.

Sandeep Shastri is a political analyst

With Ananth Kumar backing Gowda, Yeddyurappa may use this to his own advantage. If the party decides to make a Vokkaliga the party president, Yeddyurappa may push for his own nominee: Shobha Karandlaje, whom he has groomed.

Narendra Modi

Finally, it will be Narendra Modi and Amit Shah who will give the nod and it is unclear which way they will lean. For them, Yeddyurappa’s corruption charges may still be important. Political analysts differ on whether or not Modi supports Yeddyurappa. Some argue that he does, but others say that Modi’s position is closer to a lack of opposition rather than active support.

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