Analysis: Yediyurappa on a sticky wicket as disconnect with BJP leadership grows

With counter power centres and three deputies in Karnataka, the Chief Minister has been frequently left feeling undermined

The lack of connect between the BJP’s bosses in New Delhi and Karnataka Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa has been evident ever since the latter took charge, the most recent and embarrassing one being his perceived “helplessness” in ensuring flood relief for the State from the Union government on time. It took nearly two months for the Centre to announce any relief to the flood-ravaged State and, by then, the Chief Minister had made three failed attempts to get an appointment with the Prime Minister to discuss the issue.

Besides the Opposition leaders, at least two from the saffron camp – an MLA and an RSS ideologue – have attacked the Prime Minister for lack of response to the State’s needs. Basanagouda Patil Yatnal, BJP leader and former Union Minister, has been explicit in stating that the recent developments create an impression that Karnataka was “being ignored just to sideline its Chief Minister.” Now, Mr. Yatnal has been issued a show cause notice by the central leadership for his outburst.

The sense of the Chief Minister feeling “undermined” goes back to the time of him taking oath. There was an inordinate delay in the high command giving a green signal to Mr. Yediyurappa being sworn in, and the formation of his Cabinet and allocation of portfolios too were delayed. He had to make several trips to New Delhi seeking clearance from party national president Amit Shah. More significantly, the party high command forced on him three Deputy Chief Ministers, including one Lingayat, creating counter positions of power.

In this August 11, 2019 photo Union Home Minister Amit Shah is seen undertaking aerial survey to review the flood situation in Belagavi district, Karnataka. Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa accompanied him.

In this August 11, 2019 photo Union Home Minister Amit Shah is seen undertaking aerial survey to review the flood situation in Belagavi district, Karnataka. Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa accompanied him.  
| Photo Credit: TH


“He became the Chief Minister of the State, but has not been allowed to function as one,” said one of his close associates, reflecting the mood in his camp. Mr. Yediyurappa himself alluded to this recently when he said, “As Chief Minister, I am doing a tightrope walk”, creating a flutter in the party. “It is the optics that has painted him as a weak leader that he is most upset about,” said a senior minister in his Cabinet.

A week before Mr. Yediyurappa took over as Chief Minister in July, B.L. Santosh, a back-room RSS man who has emerged as a counter power centre within the State unit, was elevated and appointed national general secretary (organisation), BJP. This only further increased the troubles of the Chief Minister.

Mr. Santosh has had his say in most of the party matters since then, from the choice of Deputy Chief Ministers to the new State party chief and even the Mayor of Bengaluru. Nalin Kumar Kateel, three-time MP from the coastal district of Dakshina Kannada and a follower of Mr. Santosh, was appointed the State unit chief. It was telling how Mr. Yediyurappa, who has retained the Bengaluru Development portfolio, was away in his home district Shivamogga as Mr. Kateel disbanded a screening committee set up by Mr. Yediyurappa to select the city’s Mayor and imposed an RSS man for the post. The Chief Minister had little say in the matter. He has also overturned several other decisions made by Mr. Yediyurappa.

Sources close to Mr. Santosh argued that Mr. Yediyurappa seemed to have grown beyond the party organisation to its own detriment and the organisation was now wresting control. “As general secretary (organisation) of BJP, Karnataka, he handled the aftermath of Mr. Yediyurappa walking out of the party in 2013 and the relationship has never been same again,” said a senior leader close to Mr. Santosh.

Echoing the concerns, senior minister K.S. Eshwarappa, perceived to be close to Mr. Santosh, said recently, “The next Assembly elections in Karnataka would be fought on the basis of organisational strength and the party would not depend on a single leader or caste for electoral success.” Though he did not mention the name of Mr. Yediyurappa, there was no missing whom he was referring to.

Riding on the recent success of the BJP in the Lok Sabha poll (the party won 25 out of 28 seats in the State), the party organisation seems to think it is now in a position to win the State without relying on Mr. Yediyurappa and the Lingayat vote bank. “The recent results have shown that the party can get votes beyond caste lines as well under the leadership of Narendra Modi. I don’t say caste no longer matters, but the traditional caste arithmetic has been trounced not only in Karnataka but in Uttar Pradesh as well,” a senior BJP strategist said.

But those close to Mr. Yediyurappa point out that the BJP had come down to 40 seats in 2013 when Mr. Yediyurappa quit the party, even as those opposed to him point out it was the “pre-Modi era.” However, the party’s State unit lacks a mass leader who can rival Mr. Yediyurappa in State-wide appeal.

Mr. Yediyurappa, at 76, is a pale shadow of his former self, and the frustration of a man in a high post but apparently without matching powers in the party is clear.

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