Recent developments in Karnataka BJP send out the message that Amit Shah, despite his so-called ‘Chanakya’ fame, has lost grip on party affairs and also is running short of ideas. Only a week back, the BJP leadership appointed B Y Vijayendra, a first-time MLA, the younger son of the former Karnataka chief minister B S Yediyurappa, as the president of the state unit. This is being perceived as a circuitous move to hand over the command of the party once again to the old Lingayat leader, B S Yediyurappa, who was sidelined by Modi and Shahin May this year, right in the middle of the state election, in their bid to move the party away from the shadow of the Lingayat strongman.
That decision by Modi and Shah proved to be suicidal, as the Lingayats shifted their loyalty to the Congress and ensured its victory in at least 30 constituencies. Though the BJP national leaders claim that taking lessons from assembly defeat, they have handed over the command to Yediyurappa, it has already had a damaging impact on the state unit. The state unit of the party has a large number of prominent Lingayat faces. They feel aggrieved at this move of Shah and Modi and openly say that they feel humiliated.
They have a valid argument. They respected B S Yediyurappa, as he was a senior leader and had revived the party in the state. But respect for him should not have been construed by Modi and Shah as confirmation for the senior Lingayats listening to the diktats of Vijayendra, who is a greenhorn. They resorted to this move as Lingayat vote weighs heavy on party after the May 2023 loss and ahead of 2024 national polls. These leaders also say that while the Lingayats indeed have high regard for the senior Yediyurappa, they too deserve respect from the party leadership. BJP nurses the hope that the installation of Vijayendra would bring back Lingayats to the party fold and help it replicate its 2019 Lok Sabha performance, when it had won 25 of the 28 seats in Karnataka.
Naturally, the BJP facing “dynasty politics” criticism, following the appointment of Vijayendra as state unit president. The senior Lingayat leaders hold the view that the national leadership are running short of ideas as how to expand the base of the party in the state and have probably abandoned the strategy to evolve a cadre-based leadership system, which it had tried to do by forcing out Yediyurappa mid-term as CM in 2021.
In a message to the strongmen from dominant castes like Yediyurappa that they could no longer dictate terms to the party leadership, and citing its stand against dynastic politics, the BJP had in 2018 also denied a poll ticket to Vijayendra and denied him a ministerial post between 2021 and 2023.
Sources maintain that after the electoral Waterloo of May, the national leadership had decided to rope in the Vokkaliga community. But it did not succeed. They also pointed out that the idea was dropped after the JD(S) of H D Deve Gowda decided to have an alliance with the BJP as the Vokkaliga has been the main support base for Deve Gowda. “With the JD(S) coming into the NDA, the appointment of a Vokkaliga leader as the BJP chief was not viable. Obviously, the party was forced to have someone from the Lingayat community as the public face. Now after installing Vijayendra as the state chief, the leadership is looking for some prominent OBC leader to appoint as the legislative leader,” said a senior leader.
Yet another factor that has significantly come into play is the attitude of the Sangh Parivar. The RSS cadres of Karnataka never held senior Yediyurappa in high esteem. They feel that he might have been the face of the Lingayat community in the state, but he never tried to take all the castes and communities along with him. He never had a smooth and cordial relation with the state unit of RSS. Obviously, those loyal to RSS could not be expected to extend their support to Vijayendra. Some RSS leaders recall how Vijayendra used to behave as a “super CM” when his father was the chief minister. They even allege that his style of functioning was a major factor for the disconnect of the lower rung cadres and leaders with the state leaders. This was a major reason for fall of the party in Karnataka.
Lingayats are viewed as having anti-Hindutva orientation. It is said that Lingayatism was founded to disrupt Hinduism’s Brahminical order. Centuries later, the community’s social elite and new middle class has embraced the neoliberal and communal policies beloved of the Sangh Parivar. To endorse their views, they mention the statements of former BJP chief minister Basavaraj Bommai, that ‘hijab and halal are not election issues’ and also of senior Yediyurappa who had observed that he will not approve any socially polarising issue.
Unfortunately, the state Congress leaders, instead of striving to implement the ideological line of Rahul Gandhi, too are involved in a bitter power struggle. Karnataka CM Siddaramaiah has accused the BJP of attempting to destabilize the Congress government in the state through “Operation Kamala”. But there are few takers for his accusation. He had come out with this allegation following a complaint by Congress MLA Ravikumar Gowda that a BJP team had approached Congress legislators with offers of Rs 50 crore for each and a ministerial berth to switch to the saffron party.
Deputy CM DK Shivakumar also observed: “A big conspiracy is being hatched, but it will not bear fruit.” He said that BJP was actively working to destabilise the state government. He had claimed Congress legislators had informed him and the CM about who was in touch with them and the offers being made.
In fact, the scare of poaching is not acute. It is the infighting between two warring factions led by Siddaramaiah and Shivakumar that has been major source of worry for the Congressmen in the state. The supporters of Shivakumar are pressuring the party leadership to install Shivakumar as the chief minister. His supporters have even been holding dinners and get together to work out the strategy.
On his part, Siddharamaiah has also been holding meetings of his supporters. Recently, Siddaramaiah participated at a dinner party hosted by state home minister G Parameshwara, where Shivakumar was absent. Yet another dinner was organised coinciding with the earlier one where Mandya MLA Ravikumar Gowda claimed Shivakumar would become the CM after two-and-a-half years. Party insiders suggested the dinner aimed to pacify PWD minister Satish Jarkiholi, who has expressed dissatisfaction with Shivakumar’s increasing involvement in Belagavi politics.
Those who joined the Congress quitting BJP in the wake of the May assembly election have been key players in the game of infighting. Jarkiholi, in fact, had planned to travel to Dubai with around 20 like-minded legislators to send a message to party leaders, although a previous trip to Mysuru was cancelled after the intervention of the Congress high command.
The infighting has adversely affected the functioning of the government. Most of the pre-election promises made by Rahul and Priyanka are yet to see the day light as the ministers being senior leaders are busy garnering support for their respective leaders. Infighting has also held up party rejig ahead of Lok Sabha polls The Congress party in Karnataka is facing delays in restructuring the Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) due to factionalism.
Following the advice of Rahul Gandhi, the decision was made to induct new young faces in the state committee. But it is not happening as both the leaders Siddaramaiah and Shivkumar are not willing for this exercise. The move to infuse ‘fresh blood’ in the party ahead of the Lok Sabha elections and to reduce the workload on ministers is yet to materialise. Though AICC general secretary Randeep Singh Surjewala, in-charge of Karnataka and other central leaders will be holding meetings with the leaders to find a solution, the nature of animosity prevailing in the party sends a clear message that a major show down in near future between the two factions is imminent. (IPA Service)