Defying the BJP top brass, former chief minster BS Yeddyurappa is all set to float his own regional party. With this move, he is hoping to defy history, which is witness to political stalwarts’ failed attempts at making a regional party flourish in the state. Be it Devaraj Urs, S Bangarappa or Ramakrishna Hegde, none could succeed—despite their unquestionable mass appeal—in making their party a force to reckon with.
Even as Yeddyurappa is all set to launch the Karnataka Janata Party (KJP) at Haveri on December 10, brimming with confidence about solid backing from the Veerashaiva community, the move has evoked intense curiosity. Is the Veerashaiva community really consolidated in favour of Yeddyurappa despite the muck of corruption on his face? Will this consolidation translate into votes and seats in the next elections? These are the questions being asked, and the answers seem to be quite encouraging for Yeddyurappa.
The Veerashaiva or Lingayat community, which constitutes about 17% of the state’s population, is mainly concentrated in the northern part of the state and has seen political stalwarts like S Nijalingappa and Veerendra Patil as chief ministers. But it is BS Yeddyurappa who has turned most vocal in playing the caste card among the community which was born from the social reformers’ movement of Basaveshwara to demolish the barriers of caste and creed in the society.
“Caste politics is vitiating the society,” says Aravind Jatti, president of Basava Samiti and son of former vice-president of India BD Jatti, expressing concern about intensifying caste politics in the state.
“Like any other politician, Yeddyurappa too has done good and bad things. He is facing many corruption charges. But still he is trying to fulfill his political ambitions by projecting himself as a leader who has been victimised for being a Lingayat. This is not a good development. But look around — other political parties too are indulging in the same act by appeasing some caste or religion. Nobody is clean. The system has been corrupted. There are no strong alternative leaders in the Veerashaiva community. So the community is backing Yeddyurappa as they see no other credible alternative,” explains Aravind Jatti.
The mutt connection
The liberal grants of crores of rupees Yeddyurappa made to various mutts in his budgets when he was the chief minister, especially to mutts representing the Veerashaiva community, seem to be paying political dividends when the former chief minister is in real distress now. Seers of some of the mutts have expressed their vocal support for Yeddyurappa, something that has drawn criticism from the opposition parties. But the Veerashaiva community, to a large extent, sees nothing wrong in it.
“What is wrong in giving grants to the mutts that are engaged in social services like providing education and shelter for the orphan children,” wonders S Guruswamy, vice-president of the Bangalore district unit of All-India Veerashaiva Mahasabha.
Guruswamy fully supports the view that Yeddyurappa was a victim of political conspiracy and the entire Veerashaiva community is united like never before in his support. “Yeddyurappa is the undisputed leader of the Veerashaiva community. His detractors within the party and outside conspired his downfall as they feared that continuance of Yeddyurappa as the chief minister would make them irrelevant in state politics. As for allegations of corruption, show me a leader who is not corrupt. Are Deve Gowda, Kumaraswamy or SM Krishna clean?” he contends.
But will the support of Veerashaivas convert into votes for Yeddyurappa in the next assembly elections? “Definitely,” asserts Guruswamy. “Conversion of support into votes will be 100%. Have no doubts about it. After a long time we have found a real, strong leader who is aggressive and popular. The entire community is united to ensure that Yeddyurappa emerges as a real political force in the state after the forthcoming assembly elections. Though the community has various sub-castes, this time we are one like a rock behind Yeddyurappa,” Guruswamy argues.
‘20-30 seats for KJP’
According to BS Shivanna, chairman of Ram Manohar Lohia Thinkers’ Forum, Yeddyurappa’s regional party KJP could win about 20-30 seats. With no high command and ideological commitments, Yeddyurappa’s wish of emerging as the kingmaker is almost certain to be realised. That could put an end to the JD(S)’s aspirations, as it had been playing this role for several years now, adds Shivanna.
Sandeep Shastri, political analyst and pro vice-chancellor of Jain University, does not entirely agree. “The consolidation of Veerashaiva votes will not be to such a great extent. Last time the community voted solidly for Yeddyurappa or the BJP because Yeddyurappa was projected as the chief ministerial candidate. But this time there is no chance of him becoming the chief minister. He could at best become kingmaker, but not the king,” avers Shastri.
While Yeddyurappa’s KJP may win a few seats in northern Karnataka, it will have a huge spoiler effect on the BJP. The saffron outfit will suffer huge losses. The Congress could gain considerably if the party exploits the split in BJP votes properly, Shastri opines.