Former Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa today took over as President of his newly-minted Karnataka Janata Party (KJP) amid loud cheers from the thousands that had gathered for a massive rally in Haveri in north Karnataka. With that, Mr Yeddyurappa put an end to the months of threats, behind-the-scene bargaining and public displays of strong emotion that had followed his bitter fallout with his former party, the BJP, which he finally quit in November this year.
It was a show of strength alright what with the huge turnout that Mr Yeddyurappa managed and fittingly so. Haveri, a stronghold of the Lingayats, saw one of its biggest gatherings in decades for the tallest leader of the community today. But more worryingly for the ruling BJP, it was the presence of several of its party leaders, including at least 10 MLAs, who shared the dais with Mr Yeddyurappa, blatantly ignoring the party's warnings to keep away from the latter. Prior to the party's launch, Mr Yeddyurappa had also hosted a breakfast meeting which was attended by at least 21 BJP MLAs, seven legislators and four Lok Sabha MPs. Actress Pooja Gandhi, who was with the JD(S) earlier, was also present and later joined the KJP.
Emboldened by the support, Yeddyurappa, at the rally, dared Chief Minister Jagadish Shettar to dissolve the assembly and face the people.
"Shettar said action will be taken against legislators if they participated in today's rally. The government has no majority now. You are in Chief Minister's chair because of the support of Yeddyurappa. If you have the guts, dissolve the Assembly and seek fresh mandate", he said.
Mr Yeddyurappa's comments came a day after Mr Shettar sacked Cooperative Minister BJ Puttaswamy, a loyalist of the former, from the cabinet with the BJP also suspending another staunch supporter and Tumkur MP G S Basavaraj from the party. Both were issued show cause notices.
Most of what was said at the rally was anti-BJP rhetoric with Mr Yeddyurappa.
It's known truth that the Government is continuing in office with the support of my followers...",he said, adding, he would like to remind the BJP leadership that it was because of him that the party could form its first-ever government in the south.
"People of Karnataka will not tolerate the treatment meted out to me by the BJP leadership and selective action taken against my supporters", he said.
The BJP, meanwhile, played down talk of possible defection. Ruling out his resignation as demande by Mr Yeddyurappa, Mr Shettar asserted that he still commanded majority. He, however, said action would be taken against those who defied the party directive and participated in Mr Yeddyurappa's rally. "There is no question of tolerating indiscipline".
But the impressive numbers at Mr Yeddyurappa's rally have sent out clear signals that his KJP could have a significant impact on next year's assembly elections. Mr Yeddyurappa, on his part, would be keen to play kingmaker, if not the king.
The former BJP strongman, who was forced to step down following corruption charges, had done much to build up the party's presence in Karnataka, heading its first government in south India. But the top BJP leadership did not agree to his repeated demands to be reinstated - or given the post of the state party president.
Mr Yeddyurappa staged several shows of strength over the months - huddling with his followers in resorts outside Bangalore - and being openly critical of the party high command, especially his long-time rival and state leader Ananth Kumar. But the BJP did not relent - and Mr Yeddyurappa parted ways with the party after decades of being its most powerful leader in the state.
Mr Yeddyurappa still has his loyalists although none of the MLAs close to him have, so far, formally joined the KJP. Mr Yeddyurappa has stated that he does not want to bring down the government or embarrass the BJP with his new party. Given his past record, the BJP leadership will be taking that claim with a liberal pinch of salt.