The BJP central leadership’s move appointing Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai as the chairman of the party’s campaign committee for the upcoming state Assembly elections instead of Lingayat strongman and ex-CM B S Yediyurappa is being seen in political circles as part of its continued bid to pare down the influence wielded by the latter over the state unit for decades and to assume more control on the poll campaign through Bommai.
There had been speculations in recent weeks that the BJP leadership might entrust Yediyurappa with heading the party’s election campaign panel amid apprehensions in a party section that such a move would lead to continuance of the dominance of Yediyurappa — and, by extension, his younger son B Y Vijayendra — in the state party affairs despite his exit from its centre stage after being eased out of electoral politics.
The 25-member Karnataka BJP election campaign committee, announced by the party Friday, has a slew of senior state leaders as its members including Yediyurappa and Vijayendra, state party president Nalin Kateel and several Union ministers and key caste leaders.
The Bommai-led panel has been constituted even as a section of the BJP legislators made the pitch that the positioning of Yediyurappa as the lead poll campaigner would serve the party better in the Lingayat-dominated seats as he is still seen as the community’s “foremost leader” in the state that could not be matched by Bommai, who also belongs to the same community.
Some of these MLAs loyal to Yediyurappa had sought his presence for various events in their constituencies in January, which reflected their views that the former CM still enjoyed “more mass support” than Bommai and other leaders.
They had extended such invitations to Yediyurappa amid reports that sections in the BJP were not confident of doing well in the polls under Bommai’s leadership. There was then also a buzz about the souring of ties between Bommai and Yediyurappa.
“During the BJP national executive meeting in Delhi (in January) as many as 30 BJP MLAs sent a signed letter to their party leaders, saying there should be a change of leadership in Karnataka by ousting Bommai,” the Congress party’s spokesperson Ramesh Babu had then claimed, adding “The persons who signed the letter are supporters of Yediyurappa. They are not ready to go to polls under Bommai. The BJP central leadership is not willing to give Yediyurappa leadership responsibilities.”
Since January, however, the BJP leadership has attempted to scale up the importance of the party veteran by declaring at the state rallies that the Assembly polls slated for May will be fought under the leadership of Yediyurappa and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The saffron party has since also played down the salience of Bommai, its “common man CM”.
BJP sources said that what has now tilted the balance back in Bommai’s favour is the leadership’s renewed concerns over Yediyurapa’s continuing hold over the state unit and the latter’s close associate and party MLA Madal Virupakshappa being linked to an alleged bribery scandal.
“There is resistance in many sections of the BJP against the former CM or his family continuing to exert influence on the state unit. There were fears that making the former CM the head of the campaign committee would indirectly vest power with Yediyurappa’s son,” sources said.
Bommai is considered to be more adept at bringing about a consensus and driving the campaign as per the wishes of the central leadership than Yediyurappa, who has been at loggerheads with the state BJP leaders.
Besides Vijayendra, an electoral novice who is said to have created a base for himself among youths in some part of the state, the “surprise names” in the list of the campaign committee members include former minister Ramesh Jarkiholi, a member of the Valmiki Nayak (ST) community, and K S Eshwarappa, a member of the OBC Kuruba community. Jarkiholi and Eshwarappa had been dropped as ministers earlier after they faced police investigations in some cases.
Jarkiholi, the former water resource minister, was embroiled in a rape case, where a sex CD allegedly featuring him was shown on some local television channels. He filed a counter complaint of extortion against an organised gang. The police investigation has given him a clean chit.
Eshwarappa, the ex-rural development minister, was allegedly accused of abetting the suicide of a civil contractor after his requests for payments for road work done by him went unanswered. The police probe in the case however gave him a clean chit too.
Meanwhile, Bommai, who has a good working relationship with Kateel, said Friday that the BJP’s strength has been its
booth-level organisation. “The BJP is very strong at the booth-level, which is its biggest strength,” the CM said, adding that the BJP campaign was already in its third phase. “There have been Booth Vijay, booth-level Vijay Sankalp yatra, and now the ‘Vijay Sankalp’ yatra across constituencies.”
Bommai also said: “There has been a tremendous response from the people to the work done by Yediyurappa, the work of PM Modi in the last eight years, and work done by my government in the last one-and-a-half years. The BJP will come to power with a majority.”