The 79-year-old's elevation to BJP's highest decision-making body underlines his relevance — to make or mar its fortunes.
In 2012, when he quit the BJP and floated his own Karnataka Janata Party (KJP), BS Yediyurappa was seen as a traitor by those in the BJP. His rebellion cost the party dearly in almost 30 Assembly constituencies and restricted it to a mere 40 seats in the 2013 election — a far cry from the 110 seats it had won in 2008.
Despite winning only six seats for the KJP, Yediyurappa had proven the BJP simply could not do without him.
For anyone else, this act of rebellion would have meant being cut off from the saffron party, but it wasn’t the same for Yediyurappa.
In 2013, he was welcomed back to the BJP as state party president and went on to become chief minister again. Clearly, Yediyurappa’s absence was a void too large to fill.
The party has changed since. The leadership has changed since. And so has Yediyurappa.
From a strong, diversified state unit, the BJP is today more centralised, with a “high command” structure. From a panel of political stalwarts brainstorming on key issues, the party is now run on the commands of two people. Then a strongman with age, agility, funding and an undisputed following in the party, Yediyurappa has today lost some of the influence he used to wield.
Despite all this, what hasn’t changed is Yediyurappa’s importance for the BJP in Karnataka politics.
In 2021, on the day he completed two years in office as chief minister, a teary-eyed Yediyurappa resigned, after months of fighting against the central leadership’s attempts to replace him.
Ever since his resignation, the party has attempted to find a strong Lingayat replacement for Yediyurappa, but without success.
A year since, the BJP has come full circle. With its choice to replace Yediyurappa — Basavaraj Bommai — not yielding the results it hoped for, the party has gone back to wooing the Lingayat strongman once again.
Yediyurappa’s elevation to the BJP’s parliamentary board is either “merely symbolic, to pacify him” or “significant, recognising his importance” depending on who you ask. Irrespective of whether it is symbolic or significant, what cannot be denied is that the BJP and its leadership have bent one too many rules for Yediyurappa far too many times.
Be it welcoming him back to the party as state president after he broke away, making him the chief minister despite the party’s 75-year age ceiling, entertaining two of his sons in politics (BY Raghavendra is a Lok Sabha MP while BY Vijayendra is vice-president of Karnataka BJP) despite its supposed stance on nepotism and dynasty politics, and now appointing the 79-year-old leader to the party’s highest decision-making body, the BJP has, though grudgingly sometimes, made exception after exception for Yediyurappa.
It isn’t the BJP’s magnanimity as much as it is its necessity. It seems, with elections months away and the party’s decision to replace Yediyurappa not yielding the anticipated results, the steady fall in support from Lingayat mathas (monasteries), and the party’s internal surveys throwing up uncomfortable results, the BJP just cannot do without Yediyurappa.
“This is nothing more than a symbolic gesture. With this elevation, the party is trying to assuage Yediyurappa; but this will not suffice,” Sandeep Shastri, political analyst and coordinator of Lokniti Network, told South First. He added that, ultimately, all decisions will come from the top two leaders of the party, reducing the board to a symbolic entity.
Yediyurappa’s baiters in the BJP too believe that the elevation is no more than an attempt to keep the influential Lingayat leader under close watch and to woo the community as well.
“More than elevation, he looks at it as more responsibility being given to him. The party has given him everything and he too has given everything for the party. Four decades of his experience and service to the party is being utilised by the BJP for the party’s welfare,” Yediyurappa’s son Vijayendra told South First.
He added that the decision was taken keeping the future of the organisation and upcoming elections in mind.
“Cadres are in an upbeat mood about the party taking a good decision,” he added. The statement comes in the backdrop of the BJP firefighting anger from its own cadres in Karnataka.
A host of second-generation leaders in the Karnataka BJP were confident of pulling off the upcoming elections without Yediyurappa’s towering personality shadowing the party.
The intention behind replacing Yediyurappa in 2021 was also to make way for newer leadership in the party.
With none of those plans taking off and Yediyurappa suddenly beginning to flex his muscles closer to the election, the BJP has decided to extend a white flag of sorts to the man who built the party in the state.