BS Yediyurappa is a politician with nine lives. Speculations are rife in Bengaluru whether the gritty Lingayat from Shivmogga will survive the 10th attempt to unseat him from the office of the chief minister of Karnataka.
Yediyurappa set the cat amongst the pigeons this Sunday (June 6) sending out a clear-cut message to the dissidents at the helm of a protracted revolt against his leadership. The sub-text was aimed at a wider audience: to his support base; and the Delhi durbar.
“As long as the Delhi high command has confidence in me, I will continue as the chief minister. The day they will say they don’t want me, I will resign and work day and night for the development of the state,” Yediyurappa said in Bengaluru.
In the last 48 hours, both observers and exponents of politics in the state have had to dust up their glasses to add a little more depth to their field of vision as events unfold at a fast pace.
The Chief Minister’s statement at first glance seems to be an attempt to clear the air of political uncertainty after a long spell of summer interspersed with regular trips by some of his ministers to Delhi seeking leadership change.
A closer look, however, un-ravels more than what meets the eye. The short response is replete with layers of inter-woven messages targeted at varies recipients.
By re-iterating his loyalty to the leadership in Delhi, BSY has positioned himself of the right side of the high command. A loyal soldier of the BJP willing to conceded and sacrifice at the first call.
But the twist in the tale comes in the post-script of BSY’s response. While answering another question during the same interaction, Yediyurappa delved into a potential succession plan afoot. And delivered this punch like with the elan of a master politician.
Asked to respond to speculation on “alternate leadership”, Yediyurappa said, “I will not criticise anyone. I won’t agree that there is no alternate person. There will always be alternate persons in the state and the country, so I won’t agree that there are no alternate persons in Karnataka, but until the high command has confidence in me, I will continue as the chief minister.”
By broaching the subject of his possible replacement, the Karnataka CM has effectively brought two pertinent issues to the table.
Is there, in the first place, an alternative to BSY in the BJP? Does the party have a leader of his stature to hold the BJP’s social coalition together for the 2023 Karnataka assembly polls?
And if one goes into the specifics of actually choosing an alternative, who exactly could be a possible replacement?
Many names have been doing the rounds. Mining Minister Prahlad Joshi and BJP national organisational general secretary BL Santosh for instance have the stature to lead the party, but both belong to the upper caste which are numerically fewer than the Lingayats.
In fact, Karnataka has had only two Brahmin CMs- Gundu Rao and Ramakrishna Hegde. Can the BJP take the political risk by appointing an upper caste chief minister at this juncture?
On this other hand, within his community BSY remains the undisputed leader – both within and outside the BJP. In fact, the party owes its ascendance in Karnataka politics to the effective mobilisation of Lingayats to build a successful caste collation with the upper castes.
Yediyurappa has in the past demonstrated his ability to wean away the BJP’s support base by launching his own party a decade back. His return to the party fold just ahead of 2014 Lok Sabha election helped BJP reap rich electoral dividends.
When he was removed from the office of the chief minister the last time in 2011, BSY chose to install a Vokkaliga- the other dominant intermediary caste- chief minister in DV Sadanand Gowda. A couple of years later, BJP tried to find BSY’s replacement in the fellow Lingayat Jagdish Shettar but failed miserably at the hustings.
BSY’s statement on the “alternatives” also seeks to mobilises his support base both in the legislature party and outside. It is not surprising that within 24 hours 65 MLAs have pledged their support to BSY and written to the party high command.
Political parties prefer to have smooth transition of power. The more the noise, the less are the chances of replacement.
The “alternative” debate also throws open the race for the top post. It nudges potential candidates to ramp up their effort.
No political party would want to bring about a leadership change in a melee. The ensuing commotion also provides enough manoeuvring space to the beleaguered CM. Which is why the party now seems to have issued gag orders to all its legislatures and formed a coordination committee to cool things down a bit.