Narendra Modi’s elevation in the BJP has left the NDA in disarray but could prove to be a boon in Karnataka. The move has emboldened BJP leaders in the southern state who back former chief minister BS Yeddyurappa to launch a campaign to reinduct him into the party fold. After the BJP’s poor performance in the 6 May Assembly election, his supporters feel that only his return could salvage the party’s image in the run-up to the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.
Even though Yeddyurappa’s backers in the BJP are yet to receive a positive signal from the high command, this has not stopped them from raising a chorus at various platforms. While BJP MLA G Madhusudhan has drafted a letter to party president Rajnath Singh urging him to bring Yeddyurappa back, many are lobbying hard for the Lingayat strongman’s return. (Lingayats are the largest community in the state at 16 percent, and had been crucial to the state BJP’s success in the 2008 Assembly election).
Modi’s elevation as the BJP campaign panel chief has effectively sidelined veteran leader LK Advani, who had a long-running feud with Yeddyurappa. Advani was critical of the Yeddyurappa government for its role in various scams. Owing to the alleged ill-treatment by the high command, Yeddyurappa quit the BJP to launch the Karnataka Janata Paksha (KJP) in November 2012.
But Yeddyurappa’s supporters feel all that is set to change with Modi’s elevation. Yeddyurappa, who described himself a “secular” leader during the Assembly election and said that his party’s aim was to “root out the BJP from the state”, is an ardent Modi admirer. He even hinted at going back to the BJP when Modi was made the campaign chief.
“Look at the performance of BJP without Yeddyurappa. Yeddyurappa’s six-month-old party managed to get 10 percent of the vote whereas the BJP lost 15 percent,” says DB Chandre Gowda, the BJP MP from Bangalore North, who has been spearheading the campaign to bring back Yeddyurappa. “If we want to save the party in 2014, we have no choice but to get him back.”
However, Gowda said that they are yet to receive any communique from the high command. “Things are at the initial stages. You need to wait for some time,” he says.
In the 2008 Assembly election, the BJP had won 110 out of 224 seats. In this year’s polls, it won only 40 seats and finished behind the Congress and the JD(S). Even though Yeddyurappa’s party managed to get only six seats, the state BJP leaders acknowledge that the KJP factor damaged the party in more than 30 constituencies.
Some say that’s the reason why even his detractors in the state BJP are reluctant to take on Yeddyurappa’s backers inside the party. They are skirting the issue by leaving the matter to the high command. When contacted, former chief minister Sadananda Gowda refused to comment.
KJP president V Dhananjay Kumar was more forthcoming. “There is a growing clamour in the BJP for Yeddyurappa’s return, but he will not rejoin the party and lose his separate identity,” he says. “Since Modi has been made campaign in-charge, we are looking for a pre-poll alliance for the upcoming Lok Sabha polls. It will be a limited-purpose seat adjustment. We are hoping to retain the same numbers that we got in the 2009 polls.”
Under Yeddyurappa’s leadership, the BJP had won 18 out of 28 Lok Sabha seats in Karnataka in 2009.
However, political analysts say that the alliance at best can be a tacit one because the BJP, which wants to corner the UPA government on graft, can’t afford to have Yeddyurappa who is facing a string of corruption cases (including a CBI probe) against him. At best, they say, all this talk of Yeddyurappa’s return is to test the waters.
“People who owe their rise in the party to Yeddyurappa have been raising this chorus. Unless elections in all the pending four states are over, there will not be any change in the political strategy,” says political analyst Shiv Sundar. “In Karnataka, Modi has failed to gather votes for the party in 2008 or in this year’s election. So far, he has remained untested nationally. He will have to prove his mettle in the Assembly polls.”