Monday happens to be the second anniversary of the BJP government in Karnataka. But instead of the air of exuberance associated with such occasions, a nervous tension smoulders beneath the surface. While the Covid pandemic has certainly put the lid on public celebrations and exuberance, it’s a different story in Karnataka.

Following his recent visit to the national capital, and meetings with the party top brass, including the Prime Minister, the speculations of B.S. Yediyurappa’s imminent replacement, hit a peak. Even the chief minister who was till recently denying such possibility, said that he is waiting for the high command’s word in the matter.

The question on the minds of people and political observers is, will chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa continue in office or not. More importantly, what happens to the BJP’s political future in the state.

Once considered the BJP’s gateway to south India, Karnataka hasn’t failed the party. From the late 90s onwards, the party made steady inroads, going on to form government on at least three occasions. Today, the party is a permanent fixture in Karnataka’s triangular political arena, comprising the Congress, Janata Dal (Secular), and the BJP.

However, the latest round of speculations, and public jousting over chief minister Yediurappa’s future at the helm of government in the state, has put the party in a spot. The reality is BJP needs a fresh chief minister, but it cannot afford to lose Yediyurappa. It’s a gamble the high command is apparently prepared to take.

There can be no denying Yediyurappa’s pivotal role in the BJP’s success story in the south Indian state. Undaunted by the challenges of fighting for political space in a field dominated till then by the Congress, and the Janata parivaar, Yediyurappa led the BJP from the front – on the streets, in the Legislature, everywhere. He is rightly credited for taking the party from the sidelines, to the centrestage of Karnataka realpolitik.

However, the entire process took the better part of fifty years, and Yediyurappa no longer has age on his side. At 78, he is 3 years past the BJP’s unofficial age-limit for official positions.

Coupled with this, are allegations of corruption and nepotism that are hurled at him at regular intervals.

Faced with a similar situation in any other state, the BJP wouldn’t have batted an eyelid before taking a decision. Unfortunately for the BJP high command, the situation is quite different in Karnataka.

Firstly, there is no BJP leader worth the name who can stand up to Yediyurappa in stature. There are too many contenders or pretenders for the throne, for the rest of the pack to follow. Choosing a suitable successor can be a daunting task.

Second, and more crucially, the veteran has the Lingayat clergy solidly rooting for him. The largest community in the state, the Lingayats have by and large supported the BJP, giving it the edge in the political sweepstakes. And Yediyurappa has been the glue binding the community with the party in Karnataka.

So strong is Yediurappa’s consolidation in the community, that even community leaders from opposition parties, have spoken in his favour.

Even corruption allegations have failed to douse his vigour, nor dim his appeal on the electoral scenario. But with the passage of time, and the alleged intervention of his children in official matters, dissent bugles have been blown by several quarters in the party.

Under the circumstances, the BJP high command which has been working hard to project itself as a professional political party, has been finding Karnataka a tough nut to crack. It cannot afford to be seen as bending the rules, while at the same time, it knows that not keeping Yediyurappa in good humour, can prove costly.

Yediyurappa is said to be angling for the chief minister’s seat or that of the state party president, for his son B.S. Vijayendra.

Over the past week, ever since the whispers of Yediurappa’s exit hit a crescendo, a number of Lingayat seers of all denominations, have made it clear that the BJP stands to lose if Yediurappa is replaced.

On his part, Yediyurappa has been making the right noises politically. Without explaining too much, he has said that he will follow the party’s diktats.

But those who know Yediyurappa, know that he can be ruthless. In 2013, he quit the party to form his own political party, and ended up spoiling the BJP’s chances in the assembly elections. He returned to the party fold and was rehabilitated by Narendra Modi.

Its a catch-22 situation for the BJP as assembly elections due in 2023, are a crucial psychological factor in the run up to 2024 parliamentary polls. Especially, since Karnataka sends 28 members to the Lok Sabha. But then, this is also probably the best time to effect a leadership change in the state. With assembly elections a good two years away, and a lull in the Covid scenario, now is probably the best time for any moves to replace the old warhorse.

Holding on to Karnataka is critical for the BJP, from electoral as well as perceptional point. It’s a war that Yediyurappa can help them win, but he also has to serve as the sacrificial offering.

For the moment, though, the party high command is maintaining a studied silence. It perhaps understands that silence is the best policy, when it comes to Karnataka and Yediyurappa.

Ironically, the four-time chief minister has never enjoyed a full five-year term in office. So, all eyes are pointed towards the Karnataka chief minister. Will he, won’t he this time?

As of now, only Yediurappa has the answers.

–IANS

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