Narendra Modi’s elevation as the prime ministerial candidate of the NDA has cleared the deck for the return of former Karnataka BJP leader BS Yeddyurappa into the party fold. The Lingayat strong man – who left his party after 40 years to form the Karnataka Janatha Paksha (KJP) – will take a final call on his return to the BJP or a poll alliance with it for the 2014 elections on 18 September, inform party sources.
Following corruption allegations and Yeddyurappa’s indictment in the multi-crore mining scam by the Lokayukta, the party high command forced him to step down from the Chief Minister’s seat in 2011. Yeddyurappa held LK Advani and MP Ananth Kumar responsible for this decision. He later went on to form the KJP in January 2013 along with 13 sitting BJP MLAs. After the BJP’s massive defeat in the 2013 assembly elections, there was a chorus among the legislators in the party to bring back Yeddyurappa – its only mass leader and the person responsible for the party’s stunning electoral success in 2008, which helped it to form the first BJP government in South India.
The loss of its popular face and support of the largest caste – the Lingayats who constitute 17% of Karnataka’s population and which Yeddyurappa belongs to – resulted in a humiliating defeat for the party. In more than 100 constituencies, its legislators lost their deposits and the KJP factor was ascribed as the primary reason for BJP’s defeat in at least 40 constituencies, especially in North Karnataka – the Lingayat belt and Yeddyurappa’s stronghold. The party was not even able to win enough seats to be the main opposition party which went to former prime minister HD Deve Gowda’s Janta Dal (Secular). While both the JD(S) and the BJP won 40 seats, the former was declared as the opposition party based on voting percentage – Yeddyurappa’s KJP too didn’t fare much better with just six seats, including that of BS Yeddyurappa.
While a section of legislators known to be close to Yeddyurappa had been campaigning for his return, senior leaders in the state party, especially then party president KS Eeshwarappa and Bangalore South MP, Ananth Kumar strongly opposed the move. However, Eeshwarappa, burying his differences with Yeddyurappa, recently shared a common platform with him in their home town in Shimoga.
Party sources inform that the loss of the BJP in the assembly election and the combined leadership not being able to win Member of Legislative Council (MLC) seats has led Narendra Modi to plan a complete overhaul of the state party leadership. The party also suffered a humiliating defeat in the recent Lok Sabha by-election seats of Mandya and Bangalore rural to Congress; wherein it had given support to the JD(S) without even fielding its own candidates.
The electoral arithmetic, however, might make the BJP allow Yeddyurappa back into the party fold. Narendra Modi is open to Yeddyurappa’s return as he feels he can deliver seats in the upcoming 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Modi also conveyed the high command to take a final decision on Yeddyurappa before he starts off his campaign rally in Karnataka by the end of September. Yeddyurappa has openly professed his admiration for the Gujarat Chief Minister. On many platforms, he said that he was not averse to joining Modi’s BJP. He even welcomed the party’s decision on appointing Modi as poll panel chief and prime ministerial candidate.
The executive committee of the KJP is meeting on 18 September to decide whether the party should merge with the BJP or have only a poll alliance. While political circles are abuzz with rumours of Yeddyurappa merging the KJP with the BJP, the party’s president Dhananjay Kumar maintains that, it will be, at best, just a pre-poll alliance: “A merger is out of the question. It will only be an issue of seat adjustment and for that we will be meeting on 18 September.’’
Sources in the BJP, however, maintain that even if the KJP takes a decision, the central high command still needs to mull over the conditions set by Yeddyurappa. Party media charge Shridhar says, “Even if the KJP takes a decision, the BJP party high command has to take a decision. While the party is open to his return, it still needs to see what conditions he set.’’
Sources in the party inform that Yeddyurappa demanded that he be given the opposition leader post, should his party merge with the BJP. He also asked for greater say in the choice of candidates in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. Former BJP chief minister Sadanada Gowda, who had been actively campaigning for his return, said, “Our senior leaders, including Narendra Modi, have shown interest in his return. A proper decision will be taken after 4 October (as the period from 19 September till 4 October – Pitru Paksha – is considered inauspicious).