Former Chief Minister and the BJP’s tallest leader in Karnataka, Bookanakere Siddalingappa Yeddyurappa, 75, continues to embarrass his party. His admission that he had met the son of a JD-S legislator to discuss the possibility of his father joining the BJP has raised questions about the party’s anti-corruption narrative in the state. Last Thursday, Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy had released audio clips to back his allegation that the BJP, specifically Yeddyurappa, offered money to lure legislators from the Congress and the BJP, and to the Speaker to enable cross-voting. Yeddyurappa had denied his involvement when the clip became public and claimed it was fake — before accepting his involvement on Sunday. The speaker of the Karnataka assembly, K R Ramesh Kumar, has asked the state government to probe the audio recording and set a deadline of 15 days. But it is not a pretty picture for the BJP in a state where it has bet big — Karnataka sends 28 MPs to the Lok Sabha.
This isn’t the first time Yeddyurappa has forced the BJP on to the backfoot. In 2010, two years after he led the BJP to victory in Karnataka, the first time the party won a state in south India, Yeddyurappa was forced to resign because of allegations of corruption. He was sent to jail and a year later, he quit the BJP to form his own outfit, the Karnataka Janata Paksha (KJP), which won nearly 10 per cent of the votes in the assembly elections that followed, costing the BJP a second consecutive term in office. Just ahead of the 2014 general election, he rejoined the BJP and after the Karnataka High Court cleared him in the corruption cases, he was reinstated as the state party chief. It seems that during his years in the wilderness, Yeddyurappa and the BJP realised that they cannot do without each other. With the KJP, Yeddyurappa proved that he commands a loyal vote, primarily among the politically influential Lingayat community; in his absence, the BJP may find it a challenge to hold on to this section, which it counts among its core vote. The BJP is also handicapped by the absence of other leaders who have a pan-state, cross-sectional appeal.
Can the BJP now look beyond Yeddyurappa? Or will it take the risk of denting its anti-corruption platform? With elections drawing near, that is one of the questions in Karnataka.