The B S Yediyurappa story says it all

The B S Yediyurappa story says it all

Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa

It took nearly a month and three visits to New Delhi for Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa to appoint ministers in his cabinet, a clear sign that the BJP’s central leadership was calling the shots in a government-run by the party’s ‘tallest leader’ in Karnataka. 

From July 26, when he took oath as Karnataka’s 25th chief minister, till August 20, when 17 ministers were inducted into the cabinet, Yediyurappa was on the edge. For the most part, he ran a ‘one-man’ show, while having to deal with one of Karnataka’s worst floods all by himself and batting against the Opposition attack on this count.  

Initially, the Amit Shah-led BJP ghosted Yediyurappa and gave him no clarity on appointing ministers. “Ours is a national party,” Yediyurappa had said, seeking to justify the delay. But an irate BSY was also telling close aides, “I could have waited another three months instead of going through this.” 

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The HD Kumaraswamy-led JD(S)-Congress coalition collapsed on July 23 after a three-week-long, made-for-television political drama. Yediyurappa’s first reaction after the coalition fell was that he would form the next government. But alas, the BJP central leadership had to okay it. Shah and his team wanted to tread cautiously, given that the opportunity to form the government was created thanks to 17 ‘rebel’ Congress and JD(S) legislators who tendered resignation. “What should we do with the rebels?” was a question they wanted to answer first. 

On the intervening night of July 25-26, a delegation led by former chief minister Jagadish Shettar met Shah. The leaders parleyed with the aim of convincing Shah on how and why the BJP was poised to form the government. The meeting, according to a BJP leader, was held in the midst of legal experts who discussed various scenarios. But the clincher was the then Speaker KR Ramesh Kumar’s decision to disqualify three rebel MLAs. That gave the BJP a view to what lay ahead. As expected, Kumar disqualified the 14 other ‘rebel’ MLAs, too. The BJP top brass that was dithering on giving its nod to the state unit to go ahead relented finally. With the strength of the Legislative Assembly reduced, the BJP, with 105 members, could prove majority on its own.

But observers pointed out that things were not the same with him. In 2008, BSY became the chief minister of the BJP’s first government in the South. He called the shots and his word was final. The Lingayat leader was forced to step down as CM in August 2011 after a Lokayukta report indicted him in the illegal mining case. When the FIR was quashed in March 2012, he wanted to be reinstated as CM. While the party demurred, BSY managed to get his pick - Shettar - to sit on the CM’s chair, believing he would himself be back soon. 

When he saw that the party was not keen to see him as CM again, he broke away from the BJP and formed his own outfit, the Karnataka Janata Paksha, which dealt a blow to the BJP in the 2013 Assembly polls. Having shown his might, Yediyurappa was subsequently called back into the party.  That he is still the BJP’s tallest, the mass leader became evident when he became CM at 76, a significant deviation under the Modi-Shah era where leaders over 75 are relegated to the Margdarshak Mandal. 

Yediyurappa mostly had his way in the selection of 17 ministers who were inducted into the cabinet, but that was as far as he could go. The BJP central leadership got him to appoint three deputy CMs, which is seen as checkmating not just BSY, but also other senior leaders in the party. 

Yediyurappa was against having deputies, but the BJP saw that as an opportunity to answer a key question: Who after Yediyurappa?  

BJP general secretary N Ravikumar says, however, that the decision-making that happens in Delhi is merely a display of the “internal democracy” in the party. “We don’t have a ‘High Command’ culture. What we have is a ‘collective’ culture,” he says. 

“Being a national party, decisions are made collectively, involving the party president and the state in-charge. At the time of government formation, Amit Shah and Karnataka in-charge P Muralidhar Rao discussed with the state leadership before taking a decision. What’s wrong in that?” he says, “Show me one other party that has collective leadership.”