BS Yediyurappa’s resignation as Karnataka Chief Minister on Monday has brought an end to a chapter in the BJP’s politics in the state. That he has been the party’s most prominent leader in Karnataka, and that the present state government was of his making, could not help him stay on in office, two years into his fourth term as chief minister. He could take solace in the fact that these are difficult times for chief ministers, many of whom seem to be battling centralising tendencies of their political parties, factional intrigue and the rebellion of ambitious colleagues — be it Amarinder Singh in Punjab, Shivraj Singh Chouhan in Madhya Pradesh, Ashok Gehlot in Rajasthan, Adityanath in UP, Bhupesh Baghel in Chhattisgarh, or Biplab Kumar Deb in Tripura. Those who seem relatively more comfortable in office — Naveen Patnaik in Odisha, Nitish Kumar in Bihar, Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal, Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy in Andhra Pradesh, K Chandrashekar Rao in Telangana and M K Stalin in Tamil Nadu among them — head regional parties. It would appear that at a time when voters express a preference for strong leaders in office, the central leaderships of national parties seem increasingly wary of powerful state leaders.
More specifically, Yediyurappa’s unceremonious resignation points to the trend towards centralisation in the BJP. The party is yet to give a public reason or rationale for the change of guard in Bengaluru. Is it that Yediyurappa has crossed 75, the unofficial retirement age in BJP? Or did corruption allegations against him cost him his job? But none of these considerations are recent or new — Yediyurappa is 79, and he was seen to be more embroiled in controversy in his earlier stints in office. By all accounts, the BJP high command’s problem lay elsewhere. Even as he was seen as the builder of the BJP base in Karnataka, Yediyurappa has been his own man, preferring to draw support from a regional and communitarian base instead of leaning solely on the cadre network of the RSS and the polarising Hindutva agendas. This helped him galvanise support for the BJP from beyond its traditional base and make up the numbers when the party was short of a majority in the assembly. In 2012, when he founded his own party, Yediyurappa established that he had a political base independent of the Sangh Parivar network. Ironically, Yediyurappa’s strength as a regional leader may have contributed to his undoing: The BJP’s central leadership was compelled to accept his pre-eminence in Karnataka, but it was biding its time to cut him down to size.
Who the BJP anoints as Yediyurappa’s successor will shape the party’s future in Karnataka, the only southern state where it is a force to reckon with. The party has several leaders representing different regional and communal constituencies who want to be CM. Much depends on how the BJP negotiates these rival claims and manages the transition, and the space its high command allows to Yediyurappa’s successor. But for a party that wants to conquer new territories even as it consolidates its hold on the Centre, the manner of the regional leader’s exit is not a good augury.
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