The mess in the BJP's Karnataka unit: Tracing the history of Eshwarappa vs Yeddyurappa

Despite Amit Shah’s efforts to intervene, the two leaders continue to fight.
The mess in the BJP's Karnataka unit: Tracing the history of Eshwarappa vs Yeddyurappa
The mess in the BJP's Karnataka unit: Tracing the history of Eshwarappa vs Yeddyurappa
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The infighting in BJP’s Karnataka unit has become a giant mess. What began as a tiff between BJP State President BS Yeddyurappa and Leader of Opposition in the Vidhana Parishad, KS Eshwarappa, over the Sangolli Rayanna Brigade, has taken convoluted turns, leaving voters guessing the cause for the dissent in the party.

Adding to the series of masked attacks and counter attacks between the two leaders, Yeddyurappa, on Tuesday, announced K Srinivas Prasad as the party’s new Vice President.

Yeddyurappa has said that the move was made to ensure that Dalits are adequately represented in the party.

What is of import is that Srinivas Prasad is the leader who had defected from the Congress to the BJP. Whilst he was with the grand old party, he had one five elections in the Mysuru belt. However, he lost the Nanjangud seat during the bypoll when he contested as a BJP candidate.

This appointment has added fuel to the fire and created more unrest amongst the Eshwarappa loyalists, giving them another reason to state that Yeddyurappa has disregarded veterans in the party by appointing his sycophants to the party’s highest positions.

To understand the current political unrest in the party, one has to go back to the beginning.

When did this feud begin?

In August 2016, Eshwarappa announced that the Sangolli Rayanna Brigade would begin activities to reach out to the Dalits in the state.

The covert caste one-upmanship between Yeddyurappa and Eshwarappa thus began.

In April 2016, Yeddyurappa was appointed the BJP state President by the national High Command. Following this, his party colleagues were unhappy with his unilateral decisions in appointing office bearers in June of the same year.

“Yeddyurappa has more enemies in the BJP than friends. Except for Shobha Karandlaje, they all want to use him to get ahead. Eshwarappa is trying to create a parallel power structure vis a vis Yeddyurappa within the BJP,” Political Analyst Muzaffar Assadi had earlier told TNM.

On August 19, Eshwarappa, with the support of Muralidhar Rao, despite the party supremo’s opposition went ahead with the registration of the brigade, an organization meant to represent Dalits and backward castes of Karnataka.

When did this minor tiff become a full-blown feud?

On December 4, 2016, Yeddyurappa warned party member of stringent action if they supported the Brigade’s activities. Until then the feud was just simmering within the party.

He had declared the Rayanna Brigade as an anti-BJP outfit and called for an end to its activities.

A stubborn Eshwarappa, however, held multiple meetings with his supporters regarding the Rayanna Brigade’s activities, whilst claiming that the organisation was putting in all its efforts to make Yeddyurappa the next Chief Minister.

The two leaders reconciled on multiple occasions earlier and the feud erupted with Eshwarappa’s stance of not shutting down the Rayanna Brigade.

In January, several veteran BJP leaders including Sagodu Shivanna and Bhanuprakash esxpressed disillusionment over Yeddyurappa’s decisions on appointing his supporters to prominent posts within the party.

In the same month, a meeting of disenchanted BJP leaders was held in Tumakuru in Sagodu Shivanna’s residence.

One of the main issues brought forth was their opposition to Yeddyurappa favouring BJP leaders who had earlier defected from the party and formed the Karnataka Janata Party, when Yeddyurappa was made to resign as the CM of Karnataka following the mining scam in 2013.

As many BJP veterans were making a noise, BJP National President, Amit Shah, stepped in and a meeting was held in New Delhi on January 27 where Yeddyurappa and Eshwarappa put forth their concerns.

Amit Shah had concluded that the Sangolli Rayanna Brigade’s activities would stop and that Eshwarappa wold be made the President of the BJP’s OBC Morcha.

He had also deemed that Yeddyurappa must hold talks with rebelling leaders and heed to their requests.

The two leaders returned to Karnataka and expressed solidarity and it looked like Amit Shah had worked his magic and had put a stop to petty infighting.

When Amit Shah’s intervention failed

The patch-up between the two leaders lasted only for a few days. The trouble in paradise resurfaced on February 11, when Eshwarappa once again raised the spectre of the Brigade by holding a meeting with several of its supporters in Bengaluru. “The Sangolli Rayanna Brigade will prove its mettle,” Eshwarappa had said at the meeting.

“I will participate in activities of the Rayanna Brigade. There was news in the media that the Sangolli Rayanna Brigade was wiped out. This is false news that has been fed to the media. We will continue the Rayanna Brigade. During the meeting with Amit Shah, he had directed me to carry on with the Brigade’s activities without associating its activities with politics.”

Just seven days after this event, the duo’s fickle bromance was on the brighter side and all seemed well in the party until the recent spurt of rebellion.

The fight that landed the BJP in a giant mess

On April 27, the Eshwarappa faction held a meeting with rebelling BJP leaders at Palace Grounds in Bengaluru.

The rebel leaders expressed their displeasure against Yeddyurappa for sidelining senior party leaders and workers since the day he took charge. They blamed his unfair party policies for the rift in the party and also for BJP’s loss in the recently held Nanjangud and Gundlupet bye-polls.

When MLC Bhanuprakash lashed out at Yeddyurappa for refusing to support the Sangolli Rayanna Brigade, a ruckus erupted between Eshwarappa and Yeddyurappa’s supporters.

As soon as these words were spoken, Puttaswamy went up to the dais and began arguing with Bhanuprakash about Yeddyurappa’s loyalty towards the BJP. The war of words soon turned violent with Esharappa supporters pushing Puttaswamy and other Yeddyurappa loyalists out of the venue.

Just a day after this incident, Puttaswamy was again kicked out of the BJP party office in Mysuru by Eshwarappa loyalists.

An angry Yeddyurappa then let the people in on a glimpse of what was actually behind the rift in the party.

He blamed BL Santosh, an RSS hardliner and BJP National Joint Organising Secretary.

Santhosh, who was an RSS nominee and the BJP Organising Secretary (a powerful post within the organisation), began working in Shimoga during the 2005 election.

According to sources, animosity between Yeddyurappa and Santhosh has been building for years. It is believed that Santhosh had a role to play in Yeddyurappa’s resignation as Chief Minister in 2011, following an adverse report by Lokayukta Justice Santosh Hegde on his involvement in illegal mining. BL Santhosh, some say, was among those who convinced the BJP that it required a clean man at the top, and that Yeddyurappa should resign.

Yeddyurappa claimed that Eshwarappa and Santhosh were holding talks in private. The Lingayat leader soon took off to New Delhi to meet Amit Shah and submit tapes of these meetings.

Again, Shah ordered a check on the Rayanna Brigade. This failed too. On Monday, BJP state Vice President, MLC Bhanuprakash and senior party leaders Nirmal Kumar Surana, MP Renukacharya and G Madhusudan were removed from the party.

On Tuesday, Srinivas prasad took over Bhanuprakash’s post.

On Wednesday, Eshwarappa and his loyalists held a meeting of the Rayanna Brigade in Raichur, while once again claiming that Amit Shah never ordered a check on the Brigade’s activities.

“I am completely loyal to the BJP. Amit Shah never said that the Rayanna Brigade cannot function. He personally told me to continue with its activities,” Eshwarappa told media persons.

What do these convoluted turns in the scuffle mean?

The News Minute asked Political Analyst Muzaffar Assadi for his insight into these developments.

“When we look at BL Santosh’s involvement in backing Eshwarappa, one may look at this as another Uttar Pradesh situation. Santosh is an RSS hardliner and this move can only mean that the Sangh Pariver is trying to gain a stronghold in Karnataka. By backing Eshwarappa, who is a well-known face in Karnataka, they want to penetrate the Lingayat dominated areas,” Assadi said.

He said that although Srinivas Prasad has been made the Vice President of the state unit, it is highly unlikely that the BJP can make inroads into the Dalit vote bank.

“Srinivas Prasad represents only a faction of the Dalits in Karnataka. Most of them are still supporters of the Congress and JD(S). The recently held bye-polls are proof of it. Yeddyurappa appointing him as a face of the Dalits may just be another move in the feud over supremacy,” he added.

Assadi believes that the RSS involvement in this feud may be the reason why the National High Command has been unsuccessful in settling the rebellion.

“Amit Shah’s involvement in the fight bore fruit only temporarily. Considering that the BJP has both Yeddyurappa and the RSS to please, it reflects on why Shah’s orders have been sidelined by Eshwarappa,” he added.

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