The recent victory in the Rajya Sabha elections of Lehar Singh Siroya, a BJP candidate with no strong caste backing in Karnataka politics, and with no strong backing in the state unit of the BJP, has once again highlighted the strong influence of the BJP’s central leadership on the state unit.
Siroya, 74, a low-profile, two-term BJP member of the legislative council in Karnataka, who emerged initially as an interlocutor between the top BJP leadership in Delhi and the state unit – on account of his ability to communicate fluently in Hindi – was a surprise winner in the just concluded Rajya Sabha elections.
Considered an outsider to Karnataka politics, Singh’s equations with the BJP central leadership fetched him the Rajya Sabha ticket and later ensured that BJP MLAs toed the line and supported his candidature despite their initial reluctance.
Though Singh had only 31 spare BJP votes at his disposal to win the fourth Rajya Sabha seat in Karnataka compared to 32 for the JD(S) and 25 for the Congress, he managed to poll 33 votes thanks to cross-voting from the JD(S). Ahead of the polls, Singh had claimed to have “friends across parties” who would help him win. Singh’s win helped the BJP bag three of the four Rajya Sabha seats from Karnataka with the fourth going to the Congress.
A member of the Jain community and a businessman, Singh, who has his origins in Rajasthan, has been part of the BJP for nearly three decades, during which he was party treasurer for many years.
In his early years in politics, he was former Karnataka CM Yediyurappa’s interlocutor with the central leadership. Unable to communicate effectively in a predominantly Hindi-speaking party, the -speaking Yediyurappa often turned to Singh to communicate with the BJP leadership.
It was reportedly Yediyurappa who proposed Singh’s name in the state core committee meeting for the Rajya Sabha polls after it became apparent that he had the backing of the central leadership.
While Singh has remained associated with Yediyurappa — who first made him an MLC in 2010 – he has over the last many years been a faithful follower of Narendra Modi.
In 2010, when many BJP leaders were opposed to the entry of Modi on the national stage, Singh put out advertisements in national papers backing Modi. In 2013, Singh was suspended from the BJP for criticising L K Advani for alleged double standards on the issue of corruption. In 2012, when Yediyurappa quit the BJP to form the KJP, Singh stayed on.
A shrewd political strategist, with his Rajya Sabha elevation, Singh, who is reported to have the ear of people who matter in the BJP, is expected to be a key figure at the national level on political affairs in Karnataka ahead of the 2023 state polls. He recently said he would function like an “interlocutor” in Delhi for the people of Karnataka.
In his two terms as a member of the Karnataka legislative council, Singh has often raised issues around the deterioration of the city of Bengaluru, the issue of corruption, drug usage among youths.
In his final speech as a member of the legislative council, he warned leaders of all political parties that they were in danger of losing the confidence of people if corruption in public life is not controlled.