Shaking off post-defeat somnolence, BJP appoints Vijayendra as party chief in Karnataka

Appointment of the Vijayendra, MLA and son of former Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa, comes after party’s poor performance in Lingayat-dominated seats of North and Central Karnataka in the Assembly election held earlier this year

November 10, 2023 06:47 pm | Updated 08:26 pm IST - Bengaluru

B.Y. Vijayendra, son of former Karnataka Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa. File

B.Y. Vijayendra, son of former Karnataka Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa. File | Photo Credit: ANI

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on November 10 appointed B.Y. Vijayendra, MLA and son of former Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa, as the president of its Karnataka unit six months after the party was voted out of power in the State. The move also comes a couple of months after the party announced its alliance with the Janata Dal (Secular).

The BJP is yet to announce a Leader of Opposition in the State legislature, but Friday’s appointment, following Union Minister and Bangalore North MP D.V. Sadananda Gowda’s recusal from fighting the upcoming Lok Sabha election, shows a glimmer of the direction the BJP hopes to take, to shore up its scattered support base. Mr. Vijayendra replaces Nalin Kateel whose term had ended even before the Assembly election. He had continued on extension.

During the Assembly election in May this year, the BJP did not perform well in its major catchment area of North and Central Karnataka, where up to 69 Assembly seats are dominated by the Lingayat community. The BJP won only 20 of these seats with the Congress winning 40. This low performance was accredited to the removal of then Chief Minister and a major community leader among Lingayats, Mr. Yeddyurappa, and revolts by senior leaders like Jagdish Shettar, who joined the Congress ahead of the election.

The appointment of Mr. Vijayendra, considered his father’s political heir, is aimed at providing some salve to the Lingayat community’s alienation. Mr. Yeddyurappa’s removal was chalked up to introducing generational change in the State leadership and as a way to separate the Lingayat vote from an individual leader, which, as such, did not happen. It also resulted in the Congress party getting over 40% of the vote share in the North Karnataka region. The elements in the BJP persuading the national leadership that it could do without Mr. Yeddyurappa or his family’s connections to the Lingayat community have for now quietened down.

While the Shikaripura MLA’s appointment as State unit president is clearly aimed at shoring up the Lingayat support base, Mr. Gowda’s recusal from contesting the 2024 Lok Sabha election, being attributed to a not-so-subtle nudge by the national leaders, is connected to the entry of the H.D. Kumaraswamy-led JD(S) into the NDA.

The JD(S) counts as its heartland, the Old Mysuru area, dominated by the Vokkaliga community but won only 14 of the 64 Assembly seats there, and lost on vote percentage as well. The BJP has never been a good performer in this region as the two communities, the Lingayats and Vokkaligas, are the two dominant forces in Karnataka politics. The BJP, however, intends to support the JD(S) through its deep resources in the battle for the Lok Sabha, and the two parties feel that the Congress, which swept all before it in 2023, can be kept in check only through an alliance.

In this situation, there have been demands by the JD(S) that the Mandya Lok Sabha seat, currently held by Independent candidate Sumalatha (supported by the BJP), be handed over to it in the seat adjustment. Ms Sumalatha has reportedly asked for the Bangalore North seat in exchange, hence Mr. Gowda’s reluctance to contest.

It has been a while since the BJP has been able to shake off its somnolence after its defeat in the 2023 Assembly election, to make the all-important call on top appointments. BJP leaders in the State are hopeful that other appointments, like that of the Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly, will be made soon as well.

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