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BJP swallows bitter pill: Yeddyurappa given charge of Karnataka unit

Ramakrishna Upadhya | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:51 IST
The occasion
  • Ugadi is an important festival in the South. It heralds a new season and symbolises taking the bitter with the sweet
  • It\'s an apt metaphor for BS Yeddyurappa\'s relationship with the BJP over the last five years
The development
  • On Ugadi, the BJP named former CM Yeddyurappa as its Karnataka state unit president
  • This is a clear bid to galvanise party cadres and capitalise on the falling popularity of Siddaramaiah\'s Cong govt
More in the story
  • The rise, fall and return of Yeddyurappa in the mainstream of Karnataka politics
  • Why BJP seniors in the state tried to oppose his return

The RSS/BJP like to make new beginnings on auspicious days. So, on the occasion of Ugadi, an important festival in the South heralding a new season, the party named BS Yeddyurappa as the Karnataka unit president of the party.

Given Yeddyurappa's 'stature' in the state's politics, and the BJP's desire to shed the 'loser' tag it has recently acquired in state elections, the announcement was a long time coming. But the timing had to be right.

With the popularity of Siddaramaiah's Congress government ever on the decline and dissent within the party rising, the BJP senses an opportunity to return to power in Karnataka when the state goes to the polls in 2018.

Ugadi symbolises taking the bitter with the sweet – an apt metaphor for Yeddyurappa-BJP relations

Ugadi symbolises taking the bitter with the sweet, and people distribute neem along with jaggery among their friends and relatives. It's probably the most apt metaphor for Yeddyurappa-BJP relations over the last five years.

Seniors opposed to Yeddy

The incumbent state unit chief was Prahlad Joshi, the MP from Dharwad, whose term ended on 23 March. There was a chorus of demands from the party cadres that Yeddyurappa should take over the reins once again, to boost the party's morale.

But party seniors, led by Union ministers Ananth Kumar, D Sadananda Gowda, former CM Jagadish Shettar and Deputy CM KS Eshwarappa, met and passed a resolution that Joshi should continue for some more time, as state-level elections had not been completed.

More than any love for Joshi, a lightweight who had a lacklustre tenure as president, the seniors' cabal wanted to keep Yeddyurappa out of power.

Yeddyurappa immediately complained to BJP national president Amit Shah, and only after the latter's words of reassurance did he attend the state executive committee meeting.

The rise and fall of a tall leader

Belonging to the numerically-strong Lingayat community, it was the charismatic Yeddyurappa's relentless campaign among farmers of all sections and the middle classes that brought the BJP to power for the first time in Karnataka (and the South), in 2008.

Yeddyurappa was also able to garner public sympathy by pointing to the 'betrayal' by the Janata Dal (Secular), which formed a coalition with the BJP on the understanding of sharing power for 20 months each, only to ditch the latter in favour of fresh elections.

Yeddyurappa would have had a decent run as Chief Minister, but for some cardinal mistakes he made in power. After the 2008 polls, the BJP was three members short of majority, but six independents had readily offered their support. There was also the example of Ramakrishna Hegde successfully running a minority government in the 1980s.

But Yeddyurappa, with the help of mining baron Janardhana Reddy, launched 'Operation Lotus' to lure around 20 Opposition MLAs to resign from the Congress and the JD(S), and get elected on BJP tickets. Yeddyurappa's aim was to consolidate his own power, but Operation Lotus boomeranged on him in a big way.

Yeddyurappa helped BJP form its first govt in the South, but only lasted 3 years in the CM's chair

While the new 'loyalists' exerted pressure to be made ministers, Reddy, already a minister, extracted his reward for funding MLAs' re-election by getting a no-holds-barred licence to loot and export precious iron ore from the mines in Bellary and Chitradurga.

Police, customs, excise and port authorities turned a blind eye as hundreds of Reddy's trucks rolled day and night, ferrying iron ore. One estimate is that Reddy made around Rs 20,000 crore in a two-year period, before the Lokayukta and the CBI stepped in to halt his daylight robbery.

Yeddyurappa also came under the Lokayukta scanner, as his government had denotified several pieces of prime land in Bengaluru city. In one instance, a trust run by his sons received Rs 20 crore from a mining company in return for denotified land.

As scandal after scandal erupted, the central BJP was forced to ask Yeddyurappa to resign as CM after only three years. He was raided by the CBI for holding disproportionate assets and even went to jail for three weeks, becoming the first former CM in Karnataka to do so.

Yeddyurappa was replaced by Sadananda Gowda, but he too had to make way for Jagadish Shettar after only 11 months, as the rift within the party widened.

Messy divorce and return

Just before the 2013 Assembly elections, a bitter Yeddyurappa quit the BJP and formed a new party, the Karnataka Janata Party (KJP).

KJP contested almost all the 224 seats in the state, but Yeddyurappa soon realised that without the BJP cadre behind him, he could not make much of an impact. KJP won only five seats, but with around 10% of the vote in a four-cornered contest, it effectively destroyed the BJP and enabled the Congress to come to power.

It was a bitter lesson for both Yeddyurappa and the BJP. In January 2014, he wound up the KJP, rejoined the BJP, and campaigned extensively along with then-PM candidate Narendra Modi to help the party win 17 of 28 Lok Sabha seats. Yeddyurappa and his son Raghavendra, too, entered Parliament.

But Yeddyurappa's focus remained Karnataka, and it was only the pending cases which prevented Modi and Shah from bringing him back into the mainstream.

Yeddyurappa has been cleared of most of the corruption charges in the last few months

Last November, the Karnataka High Court set aside the sanction imposed by former governor HR Bhardwaj for the prosecution of Yeddyurappa, on the grounds that he had bypassed norms and that 'the complaints were politically motivated'.

In December, the Lokayukta court quashed four FIRs pending against Yeddyurappa. These included the alleged illegal allotment of sites to his son, son-in-law and some property developers. There's only one more case pending against him, which is being handled by the CBI and which party insiders believe is 'manageable'.

Second wind

Within 24 hours of being nominated as the boss, Yeddyurappa was off on a state tour, threatening to "bring down the corrupt Siddaramaiah government" and bring the BJP back to power.

The irony of his statement was not lost on the people of Karnataka.

But with Siddaramaiah courting one controversy after another, Yeddyurappa's second wind, at 73 years of age, cannot be underestimated.

Edited by Shreyas Sharma

First published: 9 April 2016, 8:10 IST
Ramakrishna Upadhya @rkupadhya9

Ramkrishna Upadhya is a senior journalist based in Bangalore, currently working with TV9. Earlier, he was with Deccan Herald, The Telegraph and The Indian Express.