Bengaluru: In a major relief for former Karnataka chief minister B.S. Yeddyurappa, a special Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) court on Wednesday acquitted him in a Rs40 crore illegal mining graft case. The ruling clears the decks for Yeddyurappa to spearhead the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s 2018 Karnataka assembly poll campaign.

The court maintained there was no evidence to back the allegations against Yeddyurappa, who tweeted after the verdict: “Justice is done, I stand vindicated."

Yeddyurappa, the current Lok Sabha member from Shivamogga, and 12 others, including two sons, son-in-law, JSW Steel Ltd and affiliate companies, were acquitted along with him in the case that was filed in 2012.

The timing couldn’t have been better for the BJP, which has already started its campaign with public rallies to take advantage of an anti-incumbency wave against the Siddaramaiah-led Congress state government.

“There is no doubt B.S. Yeddyurappa is the chief ministerial candidate of BJP. The factional battles in the Karnataka unit have been sorted by the central leadership. People are free to have different views, but the party has made its decision. It is a good message for BJP, and especially Yeddyurappa, before the elections," said a senior BJP leader.

As the biggest Congress ruled state, the development is likely to push the BJP central leadership into overdrive in Karnataka to realize its dream of returning to power in the state.

The importance of Karnataka for the BJP can be understood from the fact that it is the only state in southern India where the BJP has a substantial presence and is in a position to form government. The BJP has a marginal presence in the remaining three southern states.

The verdict also vindicates the decision of the BJP’s central leadership to name Yeddyurappa as the chief ministerial candidate in August.

With the Janata Dal (Secular) being reduced to a third-tier regional party and the Congress trying to dodge the anti-incumbency wave as well as fighting internal unrest, it could be advantage BJP in the next state election, with the popular Lingayat community leader cleared of all charges.

“Clearly, this is going to help him (Yeddyurappa) individually. The internal rivalry (to depose Yeddyurappa as CM candidate) will be put on back burner and it will be difficult challenging his stature within the party," Sandeep Shastri, a Bengaluru-based political analyst and pro-vice chancellor of Jain University, said.

Yeddyurappa’s style of functioning could be a problem. “Yeddyurappa is not known to be very inclusive and the party will have to deal with this," Shastri said.

In 2008, with Yeddyurappa as CM candidate, the BJP won 110 seats in the 224-member assembly. This dropped to 40 seats in the 2013 polls after Yeddyurappa had left the BJP to start the Karnataka Janata Party (KJP) in November 2012.

In 2014, Yeddyurappa agreed to merge KJP with the BJP after he was able to patch up his differences with the central leadership and went on to win Shivamogga Lok Sabha seat with a margin of over 360,000 votes. Yeddyurappa said his party workers can now work freely without worrying about the charges against him anymore.

“For the BJP and a strong leader in place, it increases its strength and capacity. For now, I think it’s advantage BJP," Shastri said.