Karnataka results: Lessons for BS Yeddyurappa

By Ritesh K Srivastava | Updated: May 13, 2013, 16:42 PM IST

Ritesh K Srivastava

Former Karnataka chief minister BS Yeddyurappa must be highly disappointed with the outcome of the single-phased May 5 Assembly elections in Karnataka, which saw the Congress returning to power after seven years by ousting the incumbent BJP. While the Congress has got a clear mandate on its own to rule in Karnataka, the results have forced the BJP to deliberate whether it erred in handling Yeddyurappa and forcing him to resign as chief minister, and later quit the party.

The verdict in Karnataka also has bitter lessons for BSY, as he is popularly known, proving the oft-repeated maxim that ‘no individual is above the party’. He now stands at crossroads with speculations rife about whether he will meet the same fate as Kalyan Singh, Uma Bharti or Keshubhai Patel.

BSY might have succeeded in ruining BJP’s chances of winning a good number of seats in Karnataka, but he himself has no reason to cheer for his own party, the KJP, which fared poorly and could win only a handful of seats.

As it is now clear, BSY clearly failed to convert the BJP`s losses into gains for his regional political outfit, which he floated last year with an aim to ‘teach a lesson’ to his former party for ‘betraying and insulting’ him by not reinstating him as the chief minister of Karnataka after he got out of jail following his indictment by the state Lokayukta for graft.

Even though the KJP was not expected to throw a big surprise in these Assembly elections, it was also not expected that BSY’s party will finish fourth in the final tally. For Yeddyurappa, the verdict is crucial - something which can cast a shadow over his political career. Had the KJP bagged a good number of seats, it would have surely added more weight to his stature and political clout in Karnataka’s caste-based politics.

Yeddyurappa emerged victorious in Shikaripura constituency, with a margin of 20,000 votes, but his KJP’s below-average performance shattered his dreams to be the kingmaker in the formation of new government in Karnataka.

BSY had hopes of winning at least 40+ seats to be able to bargain power with the Congress if the latter failed to win more than 100 seats. Yeddyurappa and his son and chief election strategist BY Vijayendra did an internal assessment of about 43 seats and earmarked them as ‘A’ constituencies where KJP candidates would have had a cakewalk. The father-son duo also created a chart of KJP stronghold and identified 56 seats under ‘B’ category, where the KJP could win at least 20 seats. His calculation was to win between 40-45 seats, finish BJP in the state while keeping the Congress tally below 100 so that it needed his party’s support to form the government.

The ‘A’ category seats included Shikaripura from where Yeddyurappa contested and won, Aland, Chincholi, Bhatkal, Byadgi, Haveri, Hanagal, Bidar North, Tiptur, Belgaum, Kundgol, Gadag, Basavakalayana, Aurad, Bidar, Nagatana, Indi, Sindagi, Tarikere, Honnali, Yeshwanthpur and Magadi – all BJP strongholds.

However, his calculation seems to have gone utterly wrong. For a veteran politician like Yeddyurappa, aspiring to become the chief minister of a big state like Karnataka, depending too much on the ‘Lingayat community votes’ was a big mistake.

He should have taken cue from Mayawati (BSP) and Mulayam Singh Yadav (Samajwadi Party), who, despite their unflinching traditional vote bank, have also championed the causes of non-Dalits, Muslims and OBCs.

Maybe, in a state where caste plays a crucial role in deciding the outcome of any electoral exercise, being seen as a leader of a particular community was not acceptable to the voters in general, even though it paid him dividends in the last polls. This is, probably, why Lingayats, the largest caste in the state, deserted both BJP and KJP, and voted in favour of Congress.

At least 40 percent of the Lingayat votes went to the Congress. In Vokkaliga dominated Old Mysore, votes were split between the Congress and the JDS. The BJP was wiped out in its strongholds including Udupi, Mangalore, Karwar, Shimoga, Hubli-Dharwad, Belgaum, Haveri, Davanagere, Tumkur, Mysore and parts of Bangalore.

Clearly, the absence of a mass leader like BSY hurt the BJP badly in its traditional pocket boroughs. The Congress managed to sweep the urban votes including major seats in Bangalore, where corruption was a major issue. The party did very well in north and central Karnataka while the BJP lost badly both in rural and urban areas. Coastal Karnataka, Mumbai-Karnataka, Hyderabad-Karnataka and Central Karnataka districts voted against the BJP in a big way. All this could have been reversed had BSY continued with the BJP.

BSY’s campaign had primarily focused on "exposing" BJP for its "betrayal" and ensuring its defeat in its southern bastion. This was his second mistake. He could not showcase the positive aspects of his leadership and failed miserably to weave a dream among Karnataka voters that KJP, if voted to power, could change their fortunes.

Yeddyurappa was solely instrumental in putting the BJP in power in the southern region for the first time in 2008. As the chief minister, Yeddyurappa dominated the scene and defied his party leadership with impunity when he was asked to step down on corruption charges after the state Lokayukta charged him with profiteering from illegal mining in the state.

He was arrested later that year and spent close to three weeks in jail. Upon his release, he sought to be re-instated as CM, but the BJP leadership did not oblige. Yeddyurappa finally quit his party of 40 years in November 2012 and took along with him his staunchest supporters and formed the KJP in December.

He had since claimed that his party would win the Assembly elections but he probably went overboard and over-estimated that KJP could cause a major upswing in the elections. But in the urban local body elections held in March, the KJP flopped. Yeddyurappa failed to demonstrate influence anywhere except in Gulbarga, where his party won seven wards.

As the BJP stands defeated, the buzz of bringing him back to the party fold has begun and a section of BJP workers now feel that the lotus would have bloomed had he continued with the party. The shocking results of the Assembly polls have once again brought to the fore the vital topic of whether the BJP should have settled the Yeddyurappa question earlier.

Ever since clinching power in Karnataka five years back, the BJP failed to build on its success and consolidate its base. Allegations of corruption and nepotism have now cost the party dearly, and by deserting the party, BSY too has learnt a bitter lesson.

However, a Congress victory could be a blessing in disguise for Yeddyurappa as the BJP might try to bring him back as it ponders over the likely causes of its debacle. BSY had repeatedly insisted that his main objective with these polls would be to wipe the BJP out from Karnataka. He has achieved that goal but spoiled his own chances of ascending to the chief minister’s chair again. But, if the BJP does not rehabilitate him, then he may set his eyes on joining the `Third Front`.

At this juncture, if BSY is taking consolation from the fact that he has spoiled the party for the BJP, then latter would also be drawing some solace from the fact that his dream of ruling Karnataka also lies shattered.