Ending months-long speculations over a leadership change in Karnataka, Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa on Monday (July 26) announced his resignation during a programme commemorating two years of the BJP government in the state.
While his replacement hasn’t been announced yet, Yediyurappa said that the party leaders will decide the next CM soon. He also contended that no one had forced him to quit and it was his decision to step down. The former chief minister had himself hinted at stepping down earlier this month.
The Lingayat strongman enjoys huge support from seers of various Lingayat mutts across Karnataka, as well as senior Congress and JD(S) leaders who shifted parties under his watch. Several of them had earlier extended support to Yediyurappa, warning BJP of consequences if he is forced to resign.
Allegations of Covid mismanagement, disgruntled party leaders
Rumours regarding a change of guard had first become rife in April, when Karnataka Rural Development Minister K S Eshwarappa had met the Governor over Yediyurappa’s alleged direct interference in the affairs of his department. He had also criticised the chief minister’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic in a letter to the Governor. However, Eshwrappa had stated then that he had met the Governor to seek clarification and not to complain.
The speculations grew when Home Minister Basavaraj Bommai and Yediyurappa’s son B Y Vijayendra on May 7 rushed to Delhi to meet Amit Shah. BJP organising secretary B L Santosh had also met Yediyurappa. However, the BJP leaders allayed the rumours, stating the party was only focusing on managing the Covid-19 crisis.
Bommai, who is considered a possible replacement for Yediyurappa, said, “I want to state very clearly that there was no political motive behind the visit to Delhi. During the Covid-19 crisis, there is no question of thinking about anything other than the Covid-19 situation.”
Yediyurappa had also come under party scrutiny over the Cabinet decision on April 26 to sell 3,667 acres in the Bellary region to steel major JSW Steel — a move that had been opposed by the BJP when in opposition — at the 2005 prices of Rs 1.2 lakh per acre rather than the estimated current market rate of Rs 1 crore.
At the end of May, both Yediyurappa and the Karnataka BJP president Nalin Kumar Kateel attempted to put the rumours to rest. Yediyurappa had admitted that “attempts” were being made to replace him, amid reports of senior BJP leaders visiting Delhi, but he dismissed the rumours, stating his priority was to manage Covid-19.
A few legislators, including tourism minister CP Yogeshwar and BJP Hubballi-Dharwad (West) legislator Arvind Bellad, had earlier gone to New Delhi reportedly to meet BJP’s top leaders, leading to further speculation. However, Kateel asserted, “There is no change…Yediyurappa is our unanimous leader. The Centre (central leadership) has already made it clear that there is no change.”
In a first, on June 6, Yediyurappa said that he would resign if the BJP’s central leadership asks him to do so. A day later, he issued a call to all party legislators to focus on Covid and refrain from carrying out signature campaigns or issuing political statements to express their support for him.
On June 16, BJP national general secretary in charge of Karnataka Arun Singh arrived in the state to meet Cabinet ministers and MLAs. He was also reportedly set to listen to the grievances of all rival MLAs, who were said to be pushing for convening a legislature party meeting, pointing at certain decisions taken by the government. In view of Singh’s visit, The Indian Express had reported that according to party sources, Yediyurappa has indicated that he will step down if PM Narendra Modi asks him to, since “he is indebted to PM Modi for taking him back into the BJP in 2014.”
The CM’s son, Vijayendra, had carried out a series of visits to meet top Lingayat seers in what was believed to be an effort to rally their support for Yediyurappa, whereas Yogeshwar, who opposed Yediyurappa, also visited many seers as part of parallel efforts to rally support against the chief minister.
On July 8, political secretary M P Renukacharya said that a section of party MLAs will meet the high command in Delhi and demand the expulsion of the detractors, who were raising opposition against Yediyurappa. On July 16, he met PM Modi in a sudden visit to Delhi, along with party chief JP Nadda and Home Minister Amit Shah.
Though he denied any rumours over his resignation, the Delhi visit further fuelled speculation over his exit. Yediyurappa had not got an appointment with Shah and was called back to meet the Home Minister after he had reached the airport to board his private flight to Bengaluru with Vijayendra and his associates.
An audio clip, too, was leaked, in which Kateel purportedly hinted at one of three Karnataka leaders currently based in Delhi being sent as CM to replace Yediyurappa. Kateel, however, had denied any links to the audio and dismissed it as fake. Further, on July 19, senior BJP leader Basavaraj Patil Yatnal had said that the party’s central leadership will soon pick a new CM, someone who is “honest, pro Hindu, and capable of bringing the BJP back to power”.
Shift in stance
The chief minister, last week, finally hinted at possibly stepping down from his role. “I will know the next step only after July 25, and will abide by the BJP high command’s decision. I will work to strengthen the party and bring the party back to power in Karnataka,” he told reporters.
He had initially scheduled a legislature party meeting on July 26 and hold a lunch with MLAs on July 25, but the programmes were rescheduled.
“Two months ago, I had suggested that I should resign as CM in order to give an opportunity to someone else. Whether I am in power or not, I must bring the BJP to power for the next few years by strengthening the party. I have decided to travel to all corners of the state to strengthen the party,” Yediyurappa had stated, refusing to name a successor.
Nadda on July 25, played down the tensions in BJP Karnataka stating, “Yediyurappaji has done good work. Karnataka is being run well. He is taking care of things in his own way.” However, party sources confirmed to indianexpress.com that Union Minister of Parliamentary Affairs, Coal and Mines, Pralhad Joshi and state Mines and Geology minister Murugesh Nirani were summoned to Delhi by the High Command on Sunday.
On Monday, the chief minister resigned purportedly of his own volition. It remains to be seen who the BJP will choose as his successor.