OPN B.S.Yediyurappa
Union Home Minister Amit Shah meets former Karnataka Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa, at the latter's residence, in Bengaluru on Friday. BJP State Vice President and son of B S Yediyurappa, B Y Vijayendra is also seen. Image Credit: ANI

It’s the most improbable comeback in Indian political history at the age of 80 — defying naysayers and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP’s) own old age home formula Bookanakere Siddalingappa (B S) Yediyurappa has emerged as the most important leader in the upcoming Karnataka elections.

Chief Minister, Basavaraj Bommai has virtually been thrust aside by Yediyurappa, who is currently the BJP electoral mascot in the most significant electoral face off with the Congress and the Janata Dal — United.

The optics are telling: Amit Shah, union home minister, visited the Yediyurappa family for a highly publicised lunch and accepted a bouquet from BSY’s (as Yediyurappa is universally known in Karnataka) son. This when the BJP supposedly frowns upon dynastic politics and Yediyurappa has made it clear that he wants to field his children.

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When the formidable founder of the BJP, L K Advani and the BJP’s third president Murli Manohar Joshi were forced in to retirement in the Margdarshak Mandal (BJP’s old age platform for leaders above 75) how did Yediyurappa buck political retirement?

In politics it’s all about your importance and your hold over people. Yediyurappa was the lone BJP warrior who ploughed a lonely furrow for the saffron party in Karnataka.

He hard scrabbled his way up to the CM’s office — let no one tell you any different India is a federal republic and popular CMs matter — much like Narendra Modi — multiple term CM of Gujarat — who also commanded giant political capital.

Caste politics at play

Yediyurappa is from the Lingayat caste who have a dominant say in Karnataka politics. As shrewd a politician as you can be Yediyurappa plotted his comeback after he made way for Bommai, banking on his special equation with Modi.

Bommai has had a lacklustre tenure as CM, allowing civic infrastructure to collapse in Bengaluru — India’s tech capital during the rains. As Bengaluru was swept away in the rains, so was Bommai’s administrative reputation and career.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi  former Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa
Prime Minister Narendra Modi felicitates Yediyurappa in Shivamogga in February this year

Karnataka is the only state in the South of India which is saffron and is looked upon by Modi and Shah as the BJP’s gateway to the South. Besides with general elections less than 300 days away, Karnataka with its resources is critical for the BJP.

If the Congress wins Karnataka, it will give a fillip to the party and its stretched resources for the big fight of 2024. The BJP simply cannot allow that and hence the return of BSY. If Tipu Sultan is an ongoing election issue, you can imagine how tight the electoral situation is for the BJP.

The comeback Nayaka

Yediyurappa has also struck a conciliatory note with Modi publicly deferring to him unlike his earlier rebellious self when he even left the BJP and set up a regional party when he was removed as CM on allegations of corruption.

The new improved Yediyurappa talks only of fighting a battle for the BJP. At an age when most leaders would be dandling their grandchildren on their knees, Yediyurappa is trying to secure electoral jobs for his children.

While Yediyurappa is the most well known saffron nayaka (leader) in Karnataka, the election is still fairly wide open. the 80 year old leader has many detractors and lobbies working against him in the BJP, which mirrors the Congress’s power struggle between Siddharamiah and D K Shivakumar.

However, Yediyurappa’s return has given hope to two other BJP regional satraps — Vasundhara Raje Scindia in Rajasthan and Shivraj Singh Chauhan in Madhya Pradesh. They are hoping to emulate the BSY model of leaders having no retirement date.