Can Yediyurappa’s exit help Congress, despite Bommai’s choice as new CM?

A file photo of BJP leader B.S. Yediyurappa with Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee president D. K. Shivakumar.  

The unceremonious exit of B.S. Yediyurappa from the Chief Minister’s post has come as an opportunity for the Congress, with the Opposition party dubbing the turn of events an “insult’ to the Lingayat-Veerashaiva community. The politically powerful community had moved away from the Congress towards BJP, and the Congress is making a determined bid to woo it back ahead of the 2023 Assembly elections.

Some of the State’s Congress leaders, who had been attacking Mr. Yediyurappa as “corrupt” and slamming the BJP government for its mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic, have now started attacking the BJP high command for constantly “troubling the veteran leader” and forcing him to shed tears while announcing his resignation. The party has demanded that he reveal who caused him to break down so publicly.

Even though his successor — Basavaraj Bommai — is another Lingayat leader, the Congress believes that “insult” meted out to Mr. Yediyurappa will not be forgotten too soon.

Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee chief D.K. Shivakumar and senior party leaders Shamanur Shivashankarappa and M.B. Patil, both Lingayat leaders, have pointed out that Mr. Yediyurappa was sidelined and ignored by the BJP’s central leaders from day one. He was not allowed to form his Cabinet for one and a half months in 2019, even when the State was ravaged by floods, and was compelled to roam the State alone, they said.

Mr. Shivashankarappa, who heads the influential All India Veerashaiva Mahasabha, and Mr. Patil have openly said Mr. Yediyurappa’s removal from the post of Chief Minister would not go down well with the community. Mr. Shivakumar has demanded an explanation from the saffron party’s national leaders as to why the Chief Minister was asked to quit on the government’s second anniversary and when the State was still grappling with multiple crises such as floods and the pandemic.

BSY’s vote bank

The caste factor plays a significant role in Karnataka politics, and Congress leaders believe Mr. Yediyurappa, a charismatic mass leader, has a personal vote bank of 7% to 8% across the State. They think the voters who identify with the former Chief Minister could help the Congress to regain its hold in North Karnataka.

In the 2018 Assembly elections, the BJP won 104 seats though it secured 1.79% fewer votes than the Congress (38.14%), which secured 80 seats. Various sub-sects of the Lingayat-Veerashaiva community have sway over nearly 100 constituencies. The Congress fielded 47 candidates from the community, but and only 16 won in 2018 as opposed to the BJP’s 35 MLAs.

Traditionally, the Lingayat-Veerashaiva community had backed the Congress, which also enjoys the support of the minorities, Dalits, and OBCs. Since the reorganisation of the State in 1956, four Congress Chief Ministers belonged to the community, with the last one being Veerendra Patil, whose ouster by Rajiv Gandhi alienated the community to some extent.

Noting the differences among leaders, P.S. Jayaramu, retired professor of political science, Bangalore University, said the Congress can regain its hold over the Lingayat community only by ending groupism and factionalism in the party. Instead of projecting the party’s next Chief Minister candidate, both Leader of the Opposition Siddaramaiah and Mr. Shivakumar should work together and focus on issue-based politics, he said.

Knowing well the role of hundreds of mathadishas of the Ligngayat-Veerashaiva community in State politics, Muzaffar Assadi, professor of political science, University of Mysuru, said anti-incumbency, negative vote, and alleged corruption, particularly during the handling of COVID-19, could work in favour of the Congress in the coming elections.

The immediate test for the BJP’s new Chief Minister and the Congress would be winning the bypolls to Hanagal and Sindagi Assembly constituencies, which would be held in the next few months.

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Printable version | Sep 21, 2021 10:15:26 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/karnataka/can-bsys-exit-help-congress-despite-choice-of-bommai-as-new-cm/article35567724.ece

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