All set to become the chief minister of Karnataka for the fourth time, B S Yeddyurappa is not known for letting things drift off easily. People who know him describe him as ‘stubborn’. Not the one to miss any opportunity, Yeddyurappa sensed a possibility of returning to power amid contradictions that was building up within the Congress-Janata Dal(Secular) alliance after its loss in the recently concluded Lok Sabha elections, including the shock defeat of veterans like Deve Gowda, Mallikarjun Kharge and Nikhil Kumaraswamy.
Congress and JD(S) worked at cross-purposes during the elections while the coalition was hanging by a thread. There was no love lost between them and one appeared to look at the other as a burden. Operation Kamala, the codeword for BJP efforts to dislodge the Congress-JD(S) government, was tried out at least six times earlier, apparently succeeding in its seventh or eighth attempt.
Interestingly, Yeddyurappa became the CM for the first time in 2007 with the support of Kumaraswamy, who later walked out over the allotment of portfolios. In 2008, his tenure as CM ended in a disaster, with serious corruption charges levelled against him. Yeddyurappa also spent a month in jail and resigned in 2011. He became the CM for the third time in 2018 despite BJP being nine short of a majority. Yeddyurappa, however, failed to prove his majority.
Starting off as a small-time clerk in the social welfare department to a mill manager to a hardware shop owner to finally being the chairman of the Shikaripura municipality, Yeddyurappa has come a long way to being the face of the party in Karnataka. However, he was not to be easily boxed into small-town politics.
Inducted into the RSS at an early age, Yeddyurappa rose to become a Jan Sangh leader in the taluka, the district and then moved on to the BJP. His website proudly mentions his 45 days in jail at Shimoga and Bellary during the Emergency.
Yeddyurappa is a rural politician who has positioned himself as “farmer leader”. People who worked with Yeddyurappa recall him as a trustworthy person who is open to ideas as well as people. Many also recall his famous short temper, but talk more about his down-to-earth attitude, a certain humility, and a genuine concern for party workers.
Others recall his confrontationist attitude with officials when he was in the Opposition to his politeness when he was in power. Most of them agree on his ability to manage party cadres, power mongers, moneybags and an inclination to sweat it out in the heat and dust of north Karnataka. His rise has been powered by a series of yatras — all focused on the welfare of farmers.
Undoubtedly, there is no other BJP leader in the state who could match his energy, committment and single-minded focus on power. But those in the know do not speak of any vision for governance. He is not the one for grandiose projects and for Yeddyurappa simpler the things the better.
The journey within the BJP was not easy. At one point, Yeddyurappa was battling with Ananth Kumar for space and clout in the party. Yeddyurappa made his debut in the Karnataka Assembly in 1983 and was among the 18 BJP MLAs at that time. It was in the 1985 elections to the state assembly, which then had only two BJP MLAs, that he made a mark.
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One of the BJP MLAs moved over to the other side and Yeddyurappa was left holding the banner of the party. He was recognised for his leadership qualities then and has never looked back.
Yeddyurappa has everything to succeed in politics. He is a Lingayat, a dominant community in Karnataka, which feels shortchanged by the capital Bengaluru being in the south. Yeddyurappa in a way represents northern Karnataka’s grievances and its wish and right to be heard in the corridors of power in Bengaluru. This combination gives him an edge in Karnataka politics.
Modi might have swayed voters during the parliamentary elections in Karnataka but during assembly polls it is the charisma of Yeddyurappa that counts. It makes him an anomaly in a centralised BJP, and despite apprehensions on his ability to stay away from controversies when in power, the party has no other leader of such stature.
Once in 2012, BJP made the mistake of slighting him and he went on to set up the Karnataka Janata Paksha, which won around 10 per cent of the vote and helped Siddaramaiah come to power in the 2013 Karnataka assembly polls. Later, both Yeddyurappa and BJP realised they cannot live without one another and a patch-up took place in 2014.
At 76, Yeddyurappa is still stubborn. The party might be looking for a generational change given its 75-year-age rule, but Yeddyurappa cannot be ignored or slighted.