How BS Yeddyurappa has Survived 11 Attempts to Remove Him (so far) – Part I

Written by  //  May 23, 2011  //  National Politics  //  7 Comments

Part I| Part II| Part III

BS Yeddyruppa (File Photo from the Hindu)

Another attempt at the (political) assassination of BS Yeddyurappa fails.

That makes it the 11th such attempt in the last three years. When it comes to staying in the Chief Minister’s gaddi, he’s got the tenacity of a mongoose and the survival skills of a cockroach. How he manages to do it is a wonder. Fevicol’s ad managers would be well advised to sign him up to promote their product while he adheres to his seat against almost all odds (including his own MLAs and party leadership).

The most recent attempt orchestrated by Karnataka Governor (and devout Congressman) HR Bharadwaj was basically D.O.A. Even if the Central Government had gone ahead and imposed President’s Rule under Article 356 of the Constitution, it would have been shot down quickly by the Supreme Court of India and worse, for the UPA, ensured a two-third majority for the BJP in Karnataka on election day. For a party that seems to be entirely on the brink of collapse or breaking, the Karnataka BJP has managed to win almost every election and by-election at all levels from Zilla Panchayat upwards by comfortable margins. Going by the recent electoral track record, it would have been no surprise if the BJP has played the “attack on the Kannada pride” card and got home with a landslide. Yet, cooler heads prevailed at the Centre and the Governor’s report was politely tossed into the bin.

Yeddyurappa:11 Rest of the World:0.

How does he do it?

He can hardly boast of a squeaky clean image ala Nitish Kumar. He’s not even got political pedigree ala Naveen Patnaik. He’s not even a big enough political player that the bigwigs in Delhi kowtow to. What accounts for his survival as Chief Minister of Karnataka against all odds?

In this short series of posts, I’ll try and explain why in light of the political situation in Karnataka and how it came to be so.


Karnataka doesn’t always figure in the news headlines in the “Delhi bubble” that traps our major news channels and think tanks, and which is possibly why you won’t find much by way of analysis or explanation from those sources. Karnataka is often reduced, at best, to Bangalore and Mysore, inevitably followed by a ritual invocation of the IT miracle. Only recently, in a political context, has it figured as BJP’s “gateway to the South”; a BJP slogan uncritically repeated in the mainstream media.

A quick look at the other southern States will tell you how laughably stupid that “analysis” is. In recent Assembly elections in Andhra Pradesh, (in 2009), Tamil Nadu and Kerala (in 2011), accounting for a total of 668 seats, the BJP won exactly 2 seats. It did worse in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections; out of 101 Lok Sabha seats from the other three southern States, the BJP did not win a single one. They don’t have a single ally from the NDA with any significant all-State presence in any of these three States either. Karnataka is therefore, the last post of BJP’s electoral territory and hardly the “gateway”.

Yet, to understand Yeddyruppa’s continued survival one has to grasp how Karnataka, one of the last States to have a non-Congress Government after Independence, has come to be a bastion of the BJP.

For the longest time, Karnataka was Congress territory. Karnataka, like Andhra Pradesh, was a Congress bastion continuously till 1983, and even in the elections immediately after the Emergency in 1977, it was one of the few States to re-elect the Congress in the Assembly elections. By general consensus, this was also in no small measure due to the men who governed Karnataka as Chief Minister with a rare combination of sagacity and wisdom. Kengal Hanumanthaiah, Kadidal Manjappa, S Nijalingappa and Devaraj Urs were giants on the political scene, combining caste arithmetic with fairly progressive land and social reforms.

The only real challenge to the Congress was the Janata Party, which in 1983 became the first non-Congress party to govern the State with Ramakrishna Hegde , its first non-Congress CM.

Over the next twenty years or so, the Congress and the Janata Party (later the Janata Dal) would trade majorities in Karnataka forming the Government with greater or lesser majorities. In the middle of course were some controversial bouts of President’s Rule, one of which led to the famous SR Bommai v Union of India judgment of the Supreme Court of India, which sort of put an end to such things. It was still, essentially, a two horse race, not complicated that much by the periodic splits in the Janata Dal, and less frequently, the Congress. Somewhere in the middle, the Peter Principle applied and HD Deve Gowda wormed his way into the Prime Minister’s post.

It was around the turn of the millennium that a third force started to rise in North Karnataka: the BJP.

The BJP’s start was steady, with 16 seats in the Assembly elections of 1983. It slipped however to 2 in 1985 (following the Rajiv Gandhi wave) and 4 in 1989, but recovered remarkably to 40 in 1994, and 44 in 1999, becoming the second largest party (but by a significant distance) in each instance. It was only in the 2004 elections, the BJP finally confirmed that its position as one of the big players in Karnataka’s polity. It emerged the single largest party with 79 seats (its National Democratic Alliance partner, the Janata Dal (United) had five).

Yet, it could not form the Government. An ostensibly “secular” coalition was formed between the Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular) to keep the BJP out of power, and N. Dharam Singh became Chief Minister of what would become a fractious, hate-hate relationship between the two.

The reasons for the coalition were not hard to find. While on the surface, much was made of the “secular” nature of the coalition, it would beggar belief to think that the two biggest players of Karnataka politics formed a coalition only for the sake of a principle.

One could perhaps take them for their word. The memories of the 2002 Gujarat pogrom were fresh in the mind, and the BJP’s later track record in this front hasn’t exactly been exemplary.

The major concern dominating this particular “alliance” was how to slow down the BJP’s momentum in the State. With the exception of Uttar Pradesh, in any of India’s major states, there is “political space” for only two parties. Smaller parties tend to coalesce around the two biggest parties in a state and one sees the emergence of two broad alliances as in Tamil Nadu and Kerala. The Congress, and more so the JD(S), realized that the rise of the BJP would inevitably push one of them out of the big league in Karnataka. For 20 months this arrangement stood, but ultimately, the mutual hostility and the classic prisoners’ dilemma got the better of the two. After a series of shenanigans for which Karnataka has now become famous for, the collapse of the Dharam Singh Government led to a power-sharing “agreement” between the BJP and the JD(S) where the CM’s post would be shared between HD Kumaraswamy and BS Yeddyurappa for 20 months each.

It was a complete sham.

There was absolutely no reason for the two parties to be in a coalition save for the fact that it was convenient at that moment. The JD(S) was a rapidly weakening force in the State, and the BJP, a growing one. The JD(S) needed the money that comes from being in power to make a decent fist of the next election and the BJP was desperate to have something to show for being the single largest party. Another shotgun wedding ensued. And ended. In a predictable manner.

In the 2008 elections, the BJP played the “betrayal card” to the hilt. The JD(S),was almost universally seen to be the party of the backstabbers, and the Congress was in complete disarray with infighting among its leadership. The BJP managed to form a government on its own, winning 110 seats out of 224, but with the help of 6 Independents, going past the half way mark; it was slender majority (bolstered later by the dubious “Operation Kamala”) and formed the first BJP led Government in the State.

The BJP’s electoral victory in 2008 was no historical accident or numerical freak. It wasn’t won on the basis of one single, hot button issue or a hugely charismatic leader with broad appeal. A survey of the BJP’s assembly election performance in the 80s and 90s leading upto the noughties would show a slow but steady accretion of seats over the years, in both State Assembly and Lok Sabha elections. From being a sub-regional party with something of a base in North Karnataka, it managed to not only sweep North Karnataka, but make significant inroads into Congress bastions in Coastal and Southern Karnataka, especially in cities such as Bangalore, Mysore and Mangalore.

The spread of saffron in Karnataka can be attributed to a curious mix of genuine socio-economic concerns and peculiar religious factors that the BJP (along with the RSS) were able to exploit to come to power in the State.

I’ll elaborate upon this in the next post.

Part I| Part II| Part III

7 Comments on "How BS Yeddyurappa has Survived 11 Attempts to Remove Him (so far) – Part I"

  1. apitcherfullofmirth May 24, 2011 at 10:22 am ·

    Pretty informative.. Very well-written too!

  2. Arghya May 25, 2011 at 7:35 am ·

    Hi Alok,

    Very informative article indeed. But it explains greatly why the BJP has come to power. But what explains why Yeddy has managed to hang on despite so much internal and Delhi-based opposition? Is it a lack of alternatives? Is it the Lingayat factor? Or perhaps the change of spelling?

  3. Alok May 25, 2011 at 9:21 am ·

    Thanks Arghya. All the answers to your questions in the upcoming posts. 🙂

  4. Aarthi May 25, 2011 at 4:41 pm ·

    This is one helluva cliffhanger! Waiting for Part Deux 🙂

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