With the BJP government in Karnataka about to complete two years, talk of the party replacing BS Yeddyurappa as chief minister has started again. An audio clip, purportedly of the BJP state chief, Nalin Kateel, had hinted that a change of leadership was on the cards. The CM’s meeting with the prime minister in Delhi last week was read as a harbinger of events to come. Clearly, all’s not well within the faction-ridden Karnataka BJP with a section of party MLAs openly dissenting against the CM and corruption allegations returning to cast a shadow on Yeddyurappa and his family. Yeddyurappa, a powerful leader in his own right, can arguably hurt the BJP’s electoral prospects. The BJP also knows that it needs an image makeover to stay in contention when assembly elections are held two years from now.
It can be said that the present crisis can be traced back to the way the BJP formed the government in the state. Though it was the single largest party in the 2018 assembly elections, it could not form the government. It gained office a year later only after luring legislators from the Congress and Janata Dal (S) to its side. “Operation Lotus” extracted a price from the BJP: It had to include those who had newly crossed over to it in the ministry, overriding the claims of old party hands. One complaint of the anti-Yeddyurappa faction is that the CM favours the newcomers while disbursing development funds. That an influential section in the state BJP was opposed to Operation Lotus as they felt it hurt the party’s long-term political interests has also not helped. This faction views Yeddyurappa, credited with building the party in Karnataka, as ideologically compromised: His centrist politics is seen as a liability for the Hindutva project. Yeddyurappa’s strategy for the BJP has been rooted in the political culture of Karnataka, where parties seek office through management and patronage of communitarian interests. Not surprisingly, some seers of the politically influential Lingayat community have rallied for Yeddyurappa and warned the BJP of consequences if he was replaced as CM.
The current events also seem to be a redux of 2008 when the BJP formed the government without winning a majority and consolidated its position by weaning away MLAs from the Opposition. The chain of events that it triggered led to the resignation of Yeddyurappa as CM, and later, expulsion from the BJP. Yeddyurappa floated his own state party, which caused the rout of the BJP in the 2013 elections. It is this history that makes the BJP central leadership cautious while dealing with a powerful state satrap, a rarity in the party today.