Even in his much-anticipated political bow-out, Karnataka BJP strongman B.S. Yediyurappa appears to have had the last laugh. The selection of his loyalist, 61-year old Basavaraj S. Bommai, as the new chief minister on July 27 indicates that, even in ‘retirement’, Yediyurappa will continue to call the shots in the state and the party’s central leadership can ill-afford to ignore him. As the tallest BJP leader among the Lingayats, Karnataka’s largest community with a 17 percent representation in the electorate, Yediyurappa remains crucial to the party’s bid to return to power in 2023.
The 78-year-old Yediyurappa is among the select few to have stretched the BJP’s unwritten rule of retiring its leaders at the age of 75. In more proof of Yediyurappa’s enduring clout, his successor, the soft-spoken and low-profile Bommai, was not even a chief ministerial contender at the start of the race. Soon after his appointment, Bommai profusely thanked his ‘guru’ in front of the media and said that he would seek his guidance on all crucial matters.
Sources say the race for the chief minister’s post had narrowed down to Union parliamentary affairs minister Prahlad Joshi (a Brahmin) and the young Hubli-Dharwad West MLA Arvind Bellad (a Lingayat). The other Lingayat contenders were state ministers Murugesh Nirani and Umesh Katti. “It was Yediyurappa who placed Bommai ahead of them. The BJP had no option but to go with his choice. They will need Yediyurappa as the party’s mascot in the next assembly election,” says Bengaluru-based political historian A. Veerappa.
Bellad, 51, a BJP legislator since 2013, is seen as a youth icon in the party. The alumnus of INSEAD business school in France is considered to have a progressive vision about development and is being groomed by a section of the RSS as the future face of the BJP in Karnataka. Yediyurappa apparently views Bellad as a threat to his youngest son and party vice-president B.Y. Vijayendra, 45, whom he has been preparing for a bigger political role in the state. His elder son, B.Y. Raghavendra, is a Lok Sabha MP.
Bellad, who made several visits to Delhi in the weeks preceding Yediyurappa’s exit, had alleged that his phone was being tapped. “It seems Arvind Bellad lost the CM race not because he lacked the skills or the party’s support but because of obvious factors (Yediyurappa),” says Tumakurubased political commentator B. Manjunath. “It will be interesting to see how Vijayendra’s political career shapes up over the next two years under Bommai.”
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