Former Karnataka chief minister and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) state president B.S. Yeddyurappa is still a force to reckon with. Credited with establishing the BJP as a strong political force in the state, Yeddyurappa now finds himself isolated within his own party, allegedly due to an autocratic way of functioning. Unwilling to be cornered, the 76-year-old braves his way against the combined might of the Janata Dal (Secular), or JD(S), Congress and some of his own party leaders. But there remains no doubt on his mass appeal and influence, especially with the dominant Lingayat community, which the BJP is banking on to secure more seats in the coming Lok Sabha elections than it did in 2014. In an interview with Mint, Yeddyurappa spoke on the 2019 general elections, the failures of the state government and on courting controversy. Edited excerpts:
How are the poll preparations in Karnataka? What are your expectations?
With each passing day, the environment is turning more favourable for us. We are all working together, travelling across constituencies and our workers seem very enthusiastic. The achievements of Narendra Modi in the last five years, the economic growth of the country and the anger against the coalition government in Karnataka, among other factors, are helping the BJP. We already have 16 seats and the situation looks favourable for us in another six seats.
What has changed in Karnataka since the 2014 elections?
The failure of the state government and its inability to amicably resolve seat adjustments will be a positive for us. Even though their top leadership might take some decisions, workers will not be able to accept it on ground. The other positives are the programmes given to the country and state by Modi. I do not see any negatives for us.
Will the coalition government in Karnataka have any impact on the elections?
We will benefit if there is a direct fight, and even in places where they have a coalition, because their workers will never join hands. With 104 seats, we are in opposition and with 37 seats they [JD(S)] are in power. This is unprecedented—101% this will have an impact on the elections.
Have the differences between JD(S) and Congress made it easier for the BJP to enter south Karnataka?
There is a lot for us to gain here. We have lost out in places like Ramanagaram, Mysuru, Mandya and Chamarajanagar, among other places. But there is a lot of infighting among their workers in these regions, and it will be beneficial to us, and give us an opportunity to win a few more seats here.
Do you foresee any changes after the Lok Sabha elections? Will this government survive beyond the polls?
The Lok Sabha election results will add to their problems. Anything can happen after the polls. The coalition is itself not confident of continuing in power, and it is well known that they wanted to manage things only till the parliamentary elections. The statements made by chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy that he works like a clerk and that he has no independence show the problems they have. Their problems, disgruntlement, mutual distrust will have an impact on parliament elections.
What is the BJP’s poll platform in Karnataka?
The achievements of the Modi government, the failure of the coalition in Karnataka and our (BJP’s) hard work will all be beneficial to us. Though there is a drought, they (coalition) are doing nothing and only speak about the farm loan waiver. Modi government has given ₹6,000 direct income transfer to farmers. Income tax relief has been given to the middle class with several concessions and a lot has been done for the labour community. These are the issues that people are talking about. The fact that there is no PM candidate from the opposition is also beneficial for us. Lakhs of youngsters, irrespective of caste and community, are supporting Modi.
Has the state BJP finalized the candidates for the national elections?
Nothing has been finalized yet and we will complete this process in a few weeks. We finished one round of discussions with (BJP chief) Amit Shah. Another one will take place soon as we are left with only seven weeks for the elections. We have identified candidates for all constituencies.
After the elections, are you expecting any change in your own organization? Is there a succession plan in place?
There will be no changes up to the Lok Sabha elections, at least. Afterwards, we will have to sit and talk, and see how things go. All of us are working together and have resolved all small differences we had.
Have we seen the last of your attempts to form a government in Karnataka?
We will not try anything in this direction up to the Lok Sabha elections. When we win 20-22 seats, automatically there will be issues between the two parties and anything can happen after that.
You clarified a controversial remark linking the air strikes to the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections. Do you think this will have any impact on the polls?
It was a media creation. For the last two months I have been saying that we will win 20-22 seats in Karnataka. Given the current situation, the media gave a different twist to the same old statement. There is a war-like situation and no political party should or would try to benefit from this. I do not want to discuss if this will have a political impact or not. Pakistan is finding itself more and more isolated and Wing Commander Abhinandan (Varthaman) has been returned. All this has filled more enthusiasm into our workers.