How Yeddy upstaged the party leadership. And exposed the fears and fractures within the BJP

Vote of confidence Yeddyurappa always enjoyed the backing of Nitin Gadkari
Vote of confidence Yeddyurappa always enjoyed the backing of Nitin Gadkari
Photo: PTI

ON 21 November at 4.30 pm, Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa was to take a flight to New Delhi to meet the BJP central leadership. It was expected that he would resign before Parliament met the next day — and save the party embarrassment about attacking the UPA government on corruption when its chief minister had a string of scams to answer for.

Instead, he was sitting in MP Kumar’s house in Bengaluru. The former BJP state treasurer is a father figure in Bengaluru’s Sangh Parivar. Alongside sat MC Jayadev, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s regional pracharak, also known as Yeddyurappa’s political mentor, and for his direct line with the RSS brass in Nagpur.

The patriarch and the pracharak were trying what nobody else in the BJP or the RSS was ready to do: persuade the prodigal Yeddyurappa to resign as a face-saver for the BJP in Delhi. They told him “it would be better for the party if he quit”.

The meeting ended in Yeddyurappa telling the elderly duo he would resign, but on two conditions: one, the party must seek his resignation publicly, thereby acknowledging the corruption taints; two, the party must ask for the resignation of other corrupt state leaders like the Reddy brothers, who have allegations of illegal mining against them, and the central leaders who have supported them. He also named IT Minister Katta Subramanya Naidu, whose son was arrested on a corruption charge.

This is as far as the BJP went in asking Yeddyurappa to resign. All the headlines about his quitting came from the party’s Delhi leaders, none of whom actually asked him to demit office. After the core committee met on 21 November morning and decided to ask for his resignation, nobody wanted to actually talk to Yeddyurappa, who had made his stand clear when he had visited Delhi two days previously. The chief minister was due to arrive in Delhi on 21 November. But after hearing the RSS seniors, he changed tack.

Even as he sent emissaries VS Acharya and Dhananjaya Kumar to meet the party leadership on the morning of 22 November, Yeddyurappa went to Puttaparthi in Andhra Pradesh and flew back in the PM’s special plane.

By that time, the Delhi set was told a few home truths: changing the chief minister would send the message that a group of Brahmins in Delhi (Nitin Gadkari, Arun Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj and his archrival Ananth Kumar are all Brahmins) had upstaged a Lingayat. The dominant Lingayat community also held a show of strength in Bengaluru. Monday morning also saw the BJP MPs rally around the chief minister.

While RSS support had saved Yeddyurappa’s government in October, this time it wanted him to resign, but did not want to alienate him. The Sangh Parivar has not forgotten yet that Yeddyurappa almost quit the BJP and joined the Congress three years ago when his leadership was contested before the Assembly election. It was Jayadev who brought him back.

The RSS’ north-south split in Karnataka came into high relief this time. Senior K Prabhakar Bhat reportedly put his weight behind the chief minister, to add to the support of Jayadev. While MP Kumar was neutral, RSS north Karnataka chief Mangesh Bhende continued to back Ananth Kumar.

All this made it difficult for the Delhi leaders who wanted Yeddyurappa to quit. There was another fear, which Yeddyurappa’s men reinforced: two other BJP chief ministers are facing corruption allegations along with dissidence within the state units.

Yeddyurappa threatened he would leave the party and break it if he was forced to resign

Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan is facing the ‘dumper scandal’, and apart from Uma Bharti and her supporters in the state, he has a few state seniors making his life difficult. Cabinet minister Kailash Vijayavargiya, tainted and sacked minister Anoop Mishra, and MLA Kamal Patel want him out.

In Uttarakhand, old foes Bhagat Singh Koshiyari and BC Khanduri have now joined hands against Chief Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank. They have agreed that Khanduri will become the chief minister if Nishank has to quit over corruption charges. Gadkari has been careful in his handling of the chief ministers, not wanting to irk them.

“The central leadership is afraid of the message it will send by sacking Yeddyurappa to dissidents in other states where the party is in power,” says a BJP source. Given how divided the party central leadership is and how difficult it is to build a consensus on any important issue, all that state-level dissidents would need to do is find a supporter among Delhi’s bickering seniors.

IT IS in this atmosphere that Yeddyurappa met the central leaders. He showed Jaitley files with details of land scams under Congress and JD(S) governments, saying they had to be handed over to the media, instead of BJP dissidents in Bengaluru handing over scam files against Yeddyurappa. When he met Gadkari, who in any case was the only person in the party’s core committee backing him, Yeddyurappa went on the offensive before he could be questioned or urged to resign.

He first told Gadkari he was deeply hurt by the support his detractors got in Delhi. He said if the party forced him to quit, he would leave the party and break it. If they wanted him to quit, nobody else would be chief minister; he would dissolve the Assembly, and support the party’s choice of chief minister in the ensuing election. Everybody knew this would be a messy situation for the party that would break it beyond repair.

The Delhi set was told changing the CM would make it look like Brahmins had upstaged a Lingayat leader

While arguing all this, Yeddyurappa knew his position was tenuous, and should the party call his bluff, it would make him politically irrelevant like Kalyan Singh became in Uttar Pradesh. But to do that, the party’s central leadership needed to be cohesive and united. Those qualities are not much in evidence in the party.

Party supremo LK Advani, who has spoken at length about the BJP’s only government in southern India and its gateway to a pan-Indian presence, wanted Yeddyurappa to quit. That’s because, on Karnataka issues, he goes by the word of Ananth Kumar, Yeddyurappa’s tormentor-inchief. But Gadkari and Jaitley kept Ananth out of the loop this time around. Swaraj, who has supported the Reddy brothers, kept out herself. Former party presidents Raj Nath Singh and Venkaiah Naidu, who have backed him in the past, were against his staying on. In the end, the decision was down to Gadkari and Jaitley.

They decided to announce Yeddyurappa’s survival on the day Bihar poll results were announced. The euphoria of the party’s gains drowned out any voices of protest. As spokesman Prakash Javadekar finished reading Gadkari’s statement, a voice from the background said, “Now back to Bihar.”

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