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

Written by  //  May 26, 2011  //  National Politics  //  3 Comments

Part I | Part II | Part III

In 2010, when the BJP’s campaign to oust Ashok Chavan as Chief Minister of Maharashtra for his role in the Adarsh Society scam was in full swing, a small, potentially embarrassing fact was brought to its notice. It’s own Chief Minister in Karnataka, Yeddyruppa, stood accused in a scam related to land in Bangalore just as large. Hoping not to derail the campaign, an attempt was made, (in true Congress style!) to summon Yeddyurappa to Delhi and have him resign.

It failed. Miserably.

If one were a fly on the wall, in the room where the conversation between the BJP Party Chairman, Nitin Gadkari (NG) and BS Yeddyruppa (BSY) took place, one would have probably heard something to this effect:

NG: “Yeddyruppa-ji, our national campaign against corruption is being derailed by these charges against you! Political mileage will be lost if you don’t resign.”

BSY: “No.”

NG: “No? No to what?”

BSY: “I’m not going to resign.”

NG: “No no please, don’t misunderstand me. This is not an indictment of you. You are very important to our party. We will not abandon you. We will find you an important post in the Central leadership of the party.”

BS: “No. I don’t want it.”

NG: “Not just some post, Yeddyurappa-ji. If you give up your CM-ship, we’ll ensure you’ll have an important say in all six BJP run States. How does an advisory post for the six BJP run states sound?”

BS: “Five.”

NG: “What?”

BS: “If I resign as CM, you will have only five BJP ruled states. Either I stay CM or you can forget about forming another Government in Karnataka for another two decades”

NG: …

Of course, we know the rest. The Central leadership caved in, and BJP’s inglorious attempt at Congress-style High Command politics ended ignominiously.

The reason is not hard to see. Yeddyurappa did have the numbers to carry out his threat. He had sixty MLAs from North Karnataka who would walk out with him if he was removed. The BJP’s two decade plan to become a big player in Karnataka politics would be back to square zero.

Delhi politicians are not used to having regional satraps dictate terms to them. Witness the Congress’ predicament with Jaganmohan Reddy, and contrast it with the way Ashok Chavan was dropped like a hot potato and replaced with whatsisname Chavan in Maharashtra. The BJP too despatched BC Khanduri from the Chief Minister-ship in Uttarakhand due to a local revolt (ostensibly as a scapegoat for Lok Sabha losses), and even the Left indulged in this most recently when they denied VS Achchuthandand a ticket in the recently concluded polls.

Yet, the question remains: How did he do it? How was he able to defy the party bosses in Delhi and hold on to his Chief Minister gaddi?

The answer lies in the manner in which Yeddyruppa built up the BJP in Karnataka, literally from scratch.

Successful politicians (as defined as those who come to hold the highest posts in State and Central Governments) in a multi-party Parliamentary democracy like India seem to follow one of two paths: they either inherit/takeover an existing party political machine, or build their own. (This point is not original, Bertrand Russell made this point as well in his book “Power: A new Social Analysis”). This seems trite and obvious, but the kind of politician who does either is quite different, and part of the difference is explained in the manner of their route to power. An Indira Gandhi or a Naveen Patnaik (or for that matter J Jayalalitha) inherits the party machine, while a Buddhadeb Bhattacharya or a Nitish Kumar takes over an existing party machine. On the other hand, someone like NT Rama Rao (Telugu Desam Party) or MG Ramachandran (Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam), create their own. BS Yeddyruppa, in as much as he lacks the obvious charisma (and fan-club network of the two examplars), nevertheless belongs to the latter category.

The success or failure of the “inheritors” depends on how well they can prove their necessity to the party machine while in power. This is done by removing peers and competitors from contention and ingratiating oneself with the base. Indira Gandhi’s first two terms as PM is a classic example.

The success of the “creators” depends on how much they can create the party machine in their “image”. As far as the “creators” are concerned, the party machine is them and they are the party machine. This is usually done by tapping into regional/linguistic/caste/religious/ethnic sentiment (i.e., they are the embodiment of the linguistic aspirations of say, the Telugu speakers or the caste identity of particular castes). In this sense, Yeddyruppa built his machine around the North Karnataka Lingayat vote.

If you are an avid reader of M.N. Srinivas would have instantly recognized the Lingayats as one of the “dominant castes” of Northern Karnataka whom politicians would treat as a vote-bank.
The analysis almost writes itself from here on.
Yeddyruppa, being Lingayat, built the BJP to be the party of the Lingayat aspirations and himself, the saviour of his fellow Lingayats, and successfully playing vote-bank politics, walked into the CM’s seat on the basis of his strong Lingayat vote. So neat and tidy.

So wrong and incomplete.

Actually, not wrong, but definitely incomplete. See, BS Yeddyurappa was only the hundredth or so politician to understand the importance of the Lingayat vote. Long before the letters B, J or P featured on Karnataka’s electoral map, the Congress had had a lockdown on the Lingayat vote. BD Jatti and S Nijalingappa were Lingayat Chief Ministers who also had a strong political following in the community and almost inevitably, delivered the Lingayat vote to the Congress. The importance of the Lingayat vote for the Congress can also be seen in the fact that the next two Chief Ministers, SR Kanthi and Veerendra Patil, were also from North Karnataka

Yet, how did the Congress lose its hold over the Lingayat vote?

Undeniably, one contributing factor was the continued socio-economic stagnation of North Karnataka.


North Karnataka is not just a geographic description. Karnataka itself was assembled out of bits of five different geographic entities; the only common factor of these areas being the preponderance of Kannada speaking peoples (at least according to the States Reorganization Commission in 1956). In that sense, Karnataka is composed of the erstwhile princely states of Mysore and Coorg, the Kannada speaking districts of the Bombay and Madras Presidencies and the Kannada speaking parts of the erstwhile Princely State of Hyderabad. While the areas under the Mysore state and the Madras Presidency were among the better governed parts, (even Mahatma Gandhi himself called it a “Ramrajya“), Bombay-Karnataka and Hyderabad-Karnataka, specifically the districts of Bidar, Gulbarga, and Raichur were the undeveloped hinterland as far a Bombay Presidency and the Hyderabad State were concerned.

Although North Karnataka has produced some of the finest exponents of Kannada literature and poetry, and was also, arguably, the birthplace of the movement to create a State for Kannada speaking peoples, post-Independence, it continued to lag behind South and Coastal Karnataka in terms of economic development and human development indices. The indicators are stark.

In North Karnataka this was attributed it to the Congress’ efforts to consolidate the Vokkaliga vote in South Karnataka (the other “dominant caste” of Karnataka) in the face of the threat from the Janata Dal in the 80s and 90s. People of North Karnataka in general, and Lingayats in particular, felt betrayed by the party that they had supported wholeheartedly for so long and began to look for other options. The Janata Dal, content in its hold over the Vokkaliga vote because of a strong pantheon of Vokkaliga leaders did not make any serious efforts to tap into this feeling of betrayal and desertion in North Karnataka.

This is where Yeddyurappa stepped in and turned the BJP (of which he was President in 1988) from being a minor player in North Karnataka to the dominant force in Karnataka politics. He pitched the BJP as the party that would remedy the long standing grievances of the people of North Karnataka, and by judiciously courting the Lingayat vote, built up a strong base in North Karnataka. The party, which had something of a presence in North Karnataka, began to expand and throw down deeper roots under Yeddyurappa’s leadership. The aggressive expansion was well under way, and received a dramatic boost from the pockets of the (now infamous) Reddy Brothers when they joined the party fold in 1998. To use a motor racing metaphor, Yeddyurappa was the engine, and the Reddy brothers’ the fuel in the BJP party machine in Karnataka.

Whereas the Congress and the JD (and its myriad split-offs) have had an ever changing roster of leaders in Karnataka, Yeddyurappa has, by far, has been the most dominant face of the BJP in the State for the longest time. It’s true that the BJP has had some local leaders of standing in Karnataka, especially in urban areas, but in terms of influence and support within the State party, Yeddyurappa stands well clear of any of them. When he told Nitin Gadkari and the rest of the BJP Executive Committee that he built the party in the State, he was referring to the twenty or so years of consolidation that the BJP undertook under Yeddyurappa’s leadership in North Karnataka, and it was not something that the party mandarins in Delhi could ill scoff at.

But surely, poor governance, highly criticized flood relief in North Karnataka, and the highly publicized iron ore theft should have seriously dented his image, even in his base right? “Sure, we gave him the chance, and look what he’s done with it” is not a sentiment to be easily dismissed and that should have made Yeddyruppa’s position weaker. A man notorious for his temper and public displays of emotion, he couldn’t have made too many friends in high places and his foes (within and without the party) should have been seriously been able to undermine him by now. MLAs with their ears to the ground would have picked up the sentiment and jumped ship when they had the chance. Yet, he seems stronger than ever.
So what keeps him in place then?

The answer to this lies in the manner in which the Lingayat vote was consolidated, both before coming to power, and upon coming to power.

I will deal with that in the next post.

Part I | Part II | Part III

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

  1. Arghya May 29, 2011 at 8:32 am ·

    Super post Alok! Look forward to the third one!

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