BS Yediyurappa stepped down as chief minister of Karnataka on Monday, along with his entire council of ministers, but till late in the evening there was no word on who his successor would be.
Usually, when a chief minister changes, his council of ministers stays in place. That the party high command asked all ministers to step down as well indicated the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) wanted no collateral damage from Yediyurappa’s ‘resignation’, and wanted to give his successor a chance to create his own team.
Although the 78-year-old Yediyurappa, who was in tears while resigning, was in no position to dictate terms, his supporters said all he wanted was honour and dignity as he stepped down. In political terms, he was conveying to the party that he did not want the party to appoint as his replacement, colleagues who had derided and diminished him and had played a part in ousting him.
This includes supporters of BL Santhosh, organising general secretary whom Yediyurappa considers the main man behind his ouster.
Santhosh had a network of BJP loyalists, including KS Eshwarappa, from the Kuruba (shepherd) caste who went to great lengths to mobilize his caste, offering it as a social coalition to fight the might of both Lingayats (Yediyurappa) and Vokkaligas (HD Deve Gowda). Sadananda Gowda, a Vokkaliga and Jagadish Shettar, a fellow Lingayat, had many complaints against Yediyurappa, which they voiced both to Santhosh and others.
However, it was Yediyurappa who engineered the defeat of the JD(S)-Congress government formed after the 2018 assembly elections. The BJP had 105 MLAs; the Congress 78; the Janata Dal Secular 37. BJP tried to form a government, failed and Congress and JDS cobbled together a precarious majority. Yediyurappa managed to bring the government down by engineering defections. It was ministerial berths to the ‘defectors’ that caused a lot of the heartburn in the BJP and gave rise to dissent. Fifteen rebels caused the HD Kumaraswamy government to fall: 13 from the Congress and three from the JDS. It was Yediyurappa who handled them. Since he became chief minister in this term, Yediyurappa had managed to win several elections for the BJP, including from some constituencies where the BJP has never won before, like in the Hassan-Mandya region of Karnataka. However, although he has been CM four times, he has never managed to complete a full term.
It is not as if he was not expecting to be given marching orders. To soften the blow, one of his associates, Shobha Karandlaje, was made a Union minister in the last shuffle undertaken by the PM. But it is clear that Karnataka will need sensitive handling by the BJP because Yediyurappa’s capacity for disruption has been proved in the past.
As a Lingayat with a pan-Karnataka appeal, the party will have to factor in the caste feelings that Yediyurappa evokes. Veterans recall how Rajiv Gandhi sacked, via a letter dictated at the Bangalore airport, Lingayat chief minister Veerendra Patil who was fighting for life after a stroke: a move that cost the Congress in the state. Keeping this in mind, it is highly unlikely that the BJP will appoint a non-Lingayat as successor. The outgoing leader himself has refused to make any suggestions about who should succeed him.