The political rehabilitation of former Karnataka Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa of the Bharatiya Janata Party happened long before his legal exoneration by a special court of the Central Bureau of Investigation this week in the mining operations corruption case. After having forced him to resign as Chief Minister in 2011, on his indictment by the Lokayukta, the BJP made him its State unit president and has even been projecting him as the chief ministerial candidate following his return to the party after a failed experiment of going it alone in the 2013 Assembly polls. Mr. Yeddyurappa and the BJP seemed supremely confident that he would get past the legal hurdles and be ready to lead the party to fight the Assembly election of 2018. But despite the acquittal, there remain several unanswered questions brought up in the Lokayukta report on illegal mining in Bellary: these include the nexus between those in the government and the mining barons sustained through a web of intricate transactions involving charitable trusts run by family members of politicians and the use of corporate social responsibility initiatives by business houses as a cover for illegal gratification of politicians and their kin. While the payments made by affiliates of JSW Steel to the trusts managed by his sons are not in dispute, the court held that Mr. Yeddyurappa’s order to ban export of iron ore was a collective decision of the government and that there was no evidence of corruption.
Unless the order is challenged in the higher courts, the path is clear for Mr. Yeddyurappa to lead the BJP’s campaign in Karnataka, shutting out rivals within the party. For the BJP too, which publicly swears by clean governance, the verdict removes all doubts about making him its political mascot for 2018. Karnataka is the only State in the south where it has a reasonable chance to form a government, and the party would not like to make a mess of its political options ahead of the Assembly election. With the possible exception of Ananth Kumar, the party has no leader capable of matching Mr. Yeddyurappa in stature in Karnataka. He can deliver a chunk of the Lingayat vote bank to the BJP. If the other principal party, the Janata Dal (Secular), can keep a substantial part of the Vokkaliga vote bank, the ruling Congress will certainly find the going tough in 2018. The court verdict allows Mr. Yeddyurappa and the BJP to look ahead, rather than be defensive about their past record. They must also be hoping that public memory does not go back beyond the last five years.