Even though he is said to be not in their good books any longer, Bookanakere Sidalingappa Yediyurappa, 76, owes his second coming in Karnataka politics to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah.
In 2013-14, Yediyurappa was down and out on political luck. He had left the BJP in a huff over his ouster as the party’s first chief minister in south India, after a three year tenure from 2008, over charges of corruption. And he had become a pariah for the party’s central leadership, then controlled by L K Advani and his supporters.
With his inability to speak Hindi, Yediyurappa had been turned against the central leadership by some party leaders from the state, according to party insiders. Despite his mass following in Karnataka, Yediyurappa, in effect, was a nonentity for the party’s top leadership when Modi’s rise began on the national horizon.
One of the first things the Modi-Shah combine did, when they took over the party’s reins, was to pick out mass leaders consigned to the sidelines under the previous leadership. Yediyurappa was the first one they turned to in Karnataka to revive BJP, which won only 40 seats in 2013 despite bagging 110 five years before, when Yediyurappa became the CM.
The Lingayat strongman soon brought back the vote base of the community – Lingayats make up 17 per cent of the population, making it the single largest community in Karnataka —- to the BJP.
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But despite affirming the faith placed in him by Modi and Shah through the 2018 poll results, with the BJP winning 113 seats in an election the then ruling Congress was favoured to win, Yediyurappa was seen as having burnt the bridges by attempting to field his younger son B Y Vijayendra in the polls, even though Shah was said to be against the move. Protests over denial of a ticket to Vijayendra did not go down well with Shah, according to party insiders.
One characteristic – and often a drawback – of Yediyurappa as a leader and administrator is his feudal style of functioning, where everyone is expected to be subservient – IAS officers reportedly often have trouble dealing with Yediyurappa’s “my way or the highway” position. This attitude, and a tendency to allow close aides to ostensibly interfere in government functioning, at the cost of ministers and officials, is seen as an Achilles heel of the veteran politician.
An example of Yeddyurappa’s tendency to force issues in his quest to achieve his goal was evident on Friday, when he virtually asked Governor Vajubhai Vala to invite him within two hours to become the new CM, party insiders said. In the letter to the Governor, Yediyurappa wrote, “I request your excellency I may be invited to form alternate government today itself and I will take oath as chief minister of Karnataka at Raj Bhavan between 12-30 pm and 1 pm [which were scratched to 6 pm and 6.15 pm, respectively].’’
But one of the factors that helped Yediyurappa emerge as a leader with wide traction in Karnataka is the fact that his politics has origins in grassroots protests and movements, rather than just following the saffron agenda, according to political observers. During his tenure as CM, between 2008 and 2011, many hardcore Hindutva outfits and leaders often complained of not being given a free hand to carry out their agenda against cow slaughter, religious conversions and “love jihad” following an initial spell of incidents such as attack on churches in Mengaluru.