Yeddyurappa survives - at a cost to his and BJP's image

The only controversy linked to him when he assumed office in May 2008 was the circumstances of his wife Maithra Devi's death and his alleged proximity to long-time Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and BJP activist Shobha Karandlaje - the lone woman minister in his cabinet. His wife's body was found in a water tank at their residence in Shimoga district Oct 16, 2004.

Whispers, though, began in the power corridors of Vidhana Soudha, the state secretariat in Bangalore, shortly after Yeddyurappa assumed office that his family had started to cash in on his position.

But the speed and the scale of land allotment to his kin came as a shock to the people who are otherwise used to such nepotism. The bet was that Yeddyurappa, despite his reputation as a fighter who had come up the hard way, would not survive the raging row as the opposition almost daily released documents to claim that his two sons were raking in millions of rupees from land deals.

Many thought even his proximity to the RSS might not be of any help in view of charges that he had freed prime land from government control to be gobbled up at throwaway prices by people who were investing in his sons' business ventures. But the party leadership Wednesday allowed him to continue.

Here are some factors that may have helped him live another day as chief minister: Divided party leadership: Like all other parties facing such a situation, the BJP top leaders too seemed split over the dividends that his continuation or resignation would yield.

The Yeddyurappa episode appeared to dent the BJP's campaign against corruption in the Congress and the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government at New Delhi, particularly over the 2G spectrum allotment scandal. There was no guarantee that sacking Yeddyurappa would make the Congress-led central government agree to a Joint Parliamentary Committee probe into the 2G scandal.

In contrast, making Yeddyurappa quit could result in losing power in Karnataka as the party did not have a huge majority and his supporters could bring down the alternative arrangement. Image: BJP apparently believes that though its image may take a beating, particularly in urban areas, the loss could be recovered somewhat by influencing votes in other areas. And Yeddyurappa had begun this exercise much before the land row started rocking his chair.

He has been distributing saris to millions of women across the state under a scheme called 'Bhagyalakshmi'. This should help the BJP in the December polls to district and other village level councils as opposition Congress and Janata Dal-Secular are in a poor shape in Karnataka.

"There is no alternative ". The party does not have a leader to match Yeddyurappa's popularity. Also almost all others, except one or two, also have land related dealings that could go against them if Yeddyurappa were to be replaced because of the land scam.

Caste: Yeddyurappa belongs to the Lingayat community which is believed to be the BJP's major supporter. The community forms about 17 percent of the state's around 60 million population (2001 census) and Yeddyurappa has managed to project himself as its sole leader.

The Gowdas: Ouster of Yeddyurappa would have given a major boost to the dwindling fortunes of the JD-S controlled by the Gowda family - former prime minister H.D. Deve Gowda and his sons H.D. Kumaraswamy and H.D.  Revanna.

Acting against Yeddyurappa would mean victory of the Gowdas, who are Vokkaligas, the main political rivals of Lingayats.

District elections: Polls to local councils at district and village are due in December and a change of leadership with no guarantee of survival of another BJP government might mean downing the shutters of 'the gateway to rule south India' for ages.

Shrewd political calculations by both Yeddyurappa and his supporters and the BJP central leadership have given a lease of life not only to him but to the party government itself. A good showing in the December polls may well silence the opposition parties.

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