We live in a strange world. In one part of the world, a 78-year-old man is elected by the people to lead his country. In another part of the world, another leader in the same age group is considered by his party to be unfit to head a state government.
Yes, the reference is to Joe Biden who was chosen to lead one of the world’s oldest democracies, the United States of America, for the next four years. The other leader is BS Yediyurappa whose immediate future has become uncertain in recent months because the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) considers him “too old” to continue to be the chief minister of Karnataka.
In some ways, the contrast between the two is uneven as much as it is sharp.
Yediyurappa may not go jogging to take to the podium like Biden. Even his morning walk is not as brisk as it used to be even as late as a couple of years ago. Fitness levels differ from country to country and, most certainly, for those in the 75-plus age group.
But nobody can doubt Yediyurappa’s political acumen as a leader who functions without the assistance of a team of professional political and electoral strategists like the (or, for that matter, any) President-elect of the US.
The Bihar Booster Dose
Yediyurappa’s continuance as the chief minister has, again, come under the spotlight for more than one reason.
First is the emergence of the BJP as the single largest party in Bihar pushing its once-upon-a-time alliance partner, the JDU, to the second position, amid its close fight with the RJD.
This itself is adequate to give the central leadership a new level of confidence to tackle a man whom it has been unable to deal with despite retiring all those who had crossed the age limit of 75 years. Let it not be forgotten that this included the man called LK Advani, the “father figure” to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
In addition, the latest results of the by-elections to the two assembly constituencies have added a new dimension to the task of the central leadership to ease Yediyurappa out of his post without, of course, hurting the feelings of the major caste group of Lingayats. It is with the support of his dominant community that Yediyurappa has been able to, single-handedly, pole vault the party to power in Karnataka.
The two assembly constituencies, strictly speaking, were not as crucial as the by-elections to the 15 seats in December 2019 where the survival of his government itself was at stake. The RR Nagar constituency could not go to the polls in December due to various legal issues.
All these constituencies, however, were part of Yediyurappa’s initiative to bring down the Janata Dal Secular-Congress coalition government last year. He adopted his old strategy called Operation Kamala, which he implemented in 2008 to remove the tag of heading a minority government. The Sira by-election, however, was caused by the vacancy created by the death of the Janata Dal Secular MLA.
In both the constituencies, the BJP had fielded Congress turncoats. N Munirathna in the RR Nagar constituency won on a hat-trick after quitting the Congress last year. In Sira (Tumakuru district), greenhorn Dr Rajesh Gowda became the ‘suitable boy’ for the BJP when his application was rejected by the Congress and it decided to back its old warhorse TB Jayachandra.
Envious Eyes On ‘Strategist’ Vijendra
The crucial factor that appears to have made the difference for the BJP has been the total involvement of BY Vijendra, the second son of Yediyurappa and party vice president, in the victory procession for Dr Gowda. Supporters of Yediyurappa will tell you that Vijendra did as good a job of his assignment as he did in the KR Pet by-election in December.
The KR Pet (Mandya district) by-election got Vijendra good press last year after the unpleasant experience of being denied the nomination papers by the central leadership to fight Dr S Yathindra, son of former Congress chief minister Siddaramaiah, from the Varuna seat in 2018. The KR Pet constituency is largely dominated by the Vokkaligas, the second major caste group other than the Lingayats, and carving a victory in Mandya district was no mean task. The kudos were more open in party circles but, along with it, came the pangs of jealousy.
As it is, Vijendra was already under scrutiny in party circles. He has been described variously as “interfering” in administrative matters and “running the show.” And, the last quote is followed by another one: “because his father is not the same aggressive man he was when chief minister the last time (meaning the 2008-11 phase).”
That explains the response to the victory in Sira. Yediyurappa’s detractors will quietly inform you that “it was a collective effort. First (party general secretary) N Ravikumar did the ground work. He was soon followed by (Mysore MP) Pratap Simha, then (Bangalore South MP) Tejasvi Surya, and (deputy chief minister) Govind Karjol, was overall in-charge. Vijendra was also there.”
The reasonable ones, within and outside the BJP, are more down-to-earth.
“Two factors mattered in Sira. One was that the Congress did not realise the change in the demography or the mood of the constituency. The constituency was thirsting for a new face. The Congress had it in Dr Rajesh Gowda but did not want to let down Jayachandra. It is also a fact that nobody can match the money power of the BJP,” said one BJP leader strictly on condition of anonymity.
Why Will The Pressure On BSY Continue?
So, when will the serious moves to convince Yediyurappa to step down begin?
“The sooner the better. At least, it has to be done before the panchayat elections (which have been postponed to February 2021 due to COVID). This alone will give his successor some two years and four months before the next election to settle down and provide leadership,” said another party man.
Why should Yediyurappa step down?
“There is an apprehension that if Yediyurappa continues until the next election, Vijendra will become the inevitable leader in the party (because of the support from his community),” is the assessment by one of the party leaders.
To paraphrase the famous quote of the Bill Clinton campaign in 1992, “it is the economy, stupid,” and in the case of Yediyurappa, “it is the future, stupid” that is worrying the BJP.
Please read the future as Vijendra.