As the BJP seeks to widen its social base, it should avoid the politics of polarisation
By unseating B.S. Yediyurappa from the Chief Minister’s chair in Karnataka, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has set in motion a new strategy for its consolidation in the State. Considering that this change of guard has been in the making for a while, the party must have accounted for the ramifications. The BJP had to change its Chief Minister in Uttarakhand twice within a span of four months recently, pointing to the pitfalls in effecting changes even when they are premeditated. Mr. Yediyurappa is no pushover and remains agile and active even at the age of 78. He has already said he would remain active in politics. At least for now, he has no intention of crossing swords with the central leadership of the party, which gave him the marching orders. But the Lingayat community that he belongs to has left no opportunity to express its displeasure. Community leaders and seers have come out openly in support of the displaced Chief Minister. Lingayats form the axis of the BJP’s social base in Karnataka. Mr. Yediyurappa has been the mastermind of the party’s rise in Karnataka and became the party’s first Chief Minister in a southern State, in 2008. In 2018, the BJP did not win a majority, but a year later, he undermined the Congress-Janata Dal(S) coalition government by engineering defections. Two years later, he is handing over the baton, leaving the fate of the defectors in the hands of his successor.
The BJP high command has been wary of strong regional leaders, and Mr. Yediyurappa has given it no reason to relax. His cunning has been a double-edged sword for the party. On the one hand it helped the party’s rise, but on the other he used it to consolidate his own personal power. He parted ways with the party once and even went to jail on corruption charges. He has been brazen in promoting a son, B.Y. Vijayendra, in the BJP, and as the inheritor of the Lingayat mantle. The BJP’s game plan appears to be to hold the community within its tent, but loosen its grip over power, mimicking its approach to the Patels in Gujarat who had turned the party into a vehicle of their domination until Narendra Modi arrived on the scene. It took a while before the Patels reconciled to their changed status in the BJP. The high-command party that the BJP has become may like to promote a Lingayat leader, though not necessarily as the new Chief Minister, who will be more compliant to its wishes than Mr. Yediyurappa. A lot will also depend on Mr. Yediyurappa’s plans and his command over the Lingayats, once out of power. But the BJP’s new strategy should not involve communal polarisation and its new Chief Minister must refrain from playing competitive Hindutva with other Chief Ministers of the party.