Hours after he added seven ministers to his cabinet, BS Yediyurappa, the 77-year-old Chief Minister of Karnataka, came face-to-face with allegations of "son stroke" and "blackmail via CD". The charges are thrown at him by a group of senior leaders of his own party, the BJP, venting after they were not promoted to ministers.
Dissent against him is not unfamiliar to Yediyurappa. In fact, so inevitable was it that the expansion of his cabinet had been delayed by nearly 17 months; it was finally authorized after the Chief Minister met de facto party boss Amit Shah in Delhi a fortnight ago. So, when the dissenters began their excoriation yesterday, Yediyurappa retorted, "Go to Delhi and talk to Amit Shah".
The greenlighting of the cabinet expansion came after Yediyurappa or BSY as he known in his home state locked in big gains for the BJP in recent by-elections, winning two assembly seats that traditionally did not chose the party. Just days ago, the BJP also performed strongly in rural panchayat elections.
The rebels within the BJP are defectors from parties like the Congress and Deve Gowda's Janata Dal Secular as also BJP veterans. Their leader is BR Patil Yatnal, a former union minister. He announced straight up that BSY has promoted those blackmailing him over an "obscene" CD. Others, he said, had made the cut because they made it clear that they have evidence of alleged corruption involving BSY's son and political heir, B Y Vijayendra, who is the Vice President of the BJP in Karnataka.
Two days ago, Yatnal was unambiguous about his intentions, publicly asking Prime Minister Narendra Modi to step in and end dynastic rule in Karnataka in a sharp reference to BSY's two sons - Vijayendra has a party role while Raghavendra is an MP.
It is no coincidence that Yatnal and some of the rebels are close to B L Santosh, the ultra-powerful National General Secretary (Organization) of the BJP, who serves as the the official link between the RSS and its political party. Santosh and BSY have clashed in a turf war, which I wrote about in this column a few months ago. Santosh belongs to Karnataka and has been steadily accruing support from a section of the local party at the expense of BSY.
BSY has completed half his term as Chief Minister. He has managed to bust the retirement age of 75 set for the BJP by Modi and Shah. And despite Santosh's alleged interventions, the central leadership of the BJP is not currently keen on destabilising BSY; it has a packed agenda with the farmers' agitation, the exit of the Akali Dal as an ally and the approaching West Bengal elections.
But BSY's reprieve is limited - and despite his best efforts, his influence will not allow for his sons to eventually replace him. Despite BSY's fraught relationship with the RSS, they virtually read the riot act to Santosh at their annual meeting recently in Ahmedabad saying this was not the time for "divisive politics". The RSS also expressed concern on the three contentious Farm Laws and wanted the BJP to reset public opinion on them top sources confirmed to me.
Karnataka has been the BJP's gateway to the South. And with elections scheduled in Tamil Nadu this year and superstar Rajinikanth announcing and then rapidly cancelling political plans, the BJP has enough to focus on without having to make room for a recalibration in Karnataka, Despite the Rajinikanth reversal (he was seen as a proxy for the BJP and would have served as a handy vote-cutter), the BJP is determined to make an impact in Tamil Nadu. Party chief J P Nadda was in Chennai yesterday and trips are scheduled soon for the PM.
Sources in the BSY camp question why despite, Shah's iron hand and individual approval of the new ministers, the rebellion remains vocal and focused. They point towards Santosh and say that in the history of the BJP, no other "sangathan mantri" has encouraged groupism.
The fact that the central leadership of the BJP is quiet about the corruption allegations against BSY gives away its preoccupation with other political controversies. Earlier, the same party had forced BSY to quit in 2008 as Chief Minister when corruption charges of considerable scale piled up against him.
As the rebels circulate CDs with helpful translations in English for those who can't understand Kannada, BSY's new year is off to a precarious start.
(Swati Chaturvedi is an author and a journalist who has worked with The Indian Express, The Statesman and The Hindustan Times.)
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