It is never easy to bargain hard from a position of weakness. Former Karnataka Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa is returning to the Bharatiya Janata Party, but with nothing to show for the year he spent as the leader of the breakaway party, the Karnataka Janata Paksha. All that he could manage with the KJP was to ensure that the BJP slumped to a huge defeat in the Assembly election in 2013. Mr. Yeddyurappa, whose tenure as Chief Minister was marked by charges of corruption and nepotism, is not going to have a grand homecoming. The merger will be unconditional, and he will have to work his way back to the top all over again. Indeed, none of the factors that led to his exit from the party seems to have gone away. His political rivals within the BJP continue to wield considerable power in the organisation, and there are sections within the national leadership which think he is more of a liability than an asset. But the former Chief Minister must have made his own calculations. The only political space that the KJP could have occupied was as a junior ally of the BJP. Ideologically, there was little to distinguish the two parties, other than the KJP’s regional and casteist appeal for Lingayats, a dominant group. The 2013 Assembly election showed that the fledgling party could never hope to challenge the Congress or replace the BJP. Not surprisingly, in the last few months the KJP has been broadly supportive of the BJP.
The merger suggested itself, and so did the timing. This is a phase when the BJP’s stock is high in northern India, but quite low in Karnataka, and Mr. Yeddyurappa realised he would have some room for manoeuvre in the State unit of the national party ahead of the Lok Sabha election. For a long time, the Lingayat leader was the principal player for the BJP in Karnataka, and he must be hoping to regain at least some of his old clout. However, the national leadership knows very well that he was not only instrumental in organising the party in the State and leading it to victory in the 2008 Assembly election, but he was also the wrecker-in-chief in the run-up to the election, making a puppet of the BJP Chief Ministers who succeeded him after he was forced to step down as he faced arrest in a corruption case. While the merger is certain to help it in some ways, the BJP leadership is conscious of the fact that Mr. Yeddyurappa is not the force he was five years ago. But the party needs all the help it can get in Karnataka, and even a scam-tainted strongman is a welcome addition in a three-way fight with the Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular) in the 2014 election. Both Mr. Yeddyurappa and his rivals within the BJP must be hoping that the sight of a common enemy would help them forget their differences.