Karnataka chief minister B.S. Yeddyurappa is finally going. His exit, appear to be a forced one, could prove to be an opportunity and a challenge for the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). At a time the BJP along with its allies in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) is gearing up to take on the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government over the issue of corruption, in the monsoon session of Parliament beginning Monday, Yeddyurappa’s continuance would be an embarrassment to the party.
Three years back Yeddyurappa became an asset to his party as he opened the southern doors for the BJP by leading the party, which was so far considered as a north Indian party, to an impressive victory in Karnataka in the 2008 state polls. But the anti-graft watchdog, Lokayukta’s indictment of the chief minister over the illegal mining case has made him its liability. The BJP has been defending Yeddyurappa for long—he was in the dock following the wrongful de-notification of lands and allotment to his close family members, when the dissidents in the party revolted against him and also when governor H.R. Bharadwaj gave sanction for his prosecution early this year. The Karnataka High Court last week upheld the governor’s sanction to prosecute the chief minister and his family members on five private complaints observing that the complaints were “in accordance with law.”
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By asking Yeddyurappa to go, the BJP gets an opportunity to take a moral high ground for an aggressive stand against its political rivals and make its position strong against the Congress and the UPA in its attack against the ruling dispensation over the graft charges against its leaders, though it has stretched the matter little too much. The move will put the Congress in the backfoot at the national level. Yeddyurappa’s continuance in the top post despite the allegation has been one major weapon that the ruling Congress has held against the BJP.
Apart from crushing the prospects of a revolt from the Yeddyurappa camp, the party has other challenges too. The BJP feared the removal of Yeddyurappa, a strong Lingayat leader with a significant backing in the rural areas, may dent its prospects in the future electoral tests.
Lingayats, who constitute 14%-19% of the electorate and are highly influential, believed to have groomed Yeddyurappa as their leader and led him to the chief minister’s post. If various Mutts and their pontiffs had publicly supported the BJP and Yeddyurappa in the 2008 elections, it does not seem to be the case now. The chief pontiff of the Pejawar Mutt has already said in a television interview that Yeddyurappa ”should have been like Caesar’s wife, above suspicion”—indicating that he no longer enjoys their unconditional support.
The BJP seems to have a tough task ahead—both in choosing a successor to Yeddyurappa or in facing a mid-term election. It has to be someone who would be able to keep the flock together—Yeddyurappa was a strong leader despite the black clouds looming over his term. For the BJP, the challenge is to reclaim the faith the people of Karnataka have put in the party and its government in 2008 after a long period of political uncertainty and regain its image as a party with a difference for retaining its electoral support in the southern state. The chief minister’s exit could embolden the opposition to take an aggressive posture.