March 29, 2020
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The Tripwire Setters

The BJP banks on a swoosh of an election run in the state. Will these two men's rivalry foul it up?

The Tripwire Setters
The Tripwire Setters
A Shadow Fight Gets Projected To The Top

Karnataka CM B.S. Yediyurappa has communicated the following concerns to the BJP top brass:
  • His rival BJP national general secretary H.N. Ananth Kumar has constantly tried to "destabilise" his government and marginalise his party presence
  • The "caucus" led by Ananth Kumar is constantly "conspiring" against his government. Among those who belong to the caucus are some senior leaders, like former Union minister Basanagouda Patil Yatnal, former state unit chief B.V. Shivappa, former Lok Sabha deputy speaker S. Mallikarjunaiah, and MPs K.B. Shanappa and Prahalad Joshi.
  • Karunakar and Janardhan Reddy, the powerful brothers from Bellary who helped the BJP in the last assembly elections, have also turned against him
  • Ananth Kumar has been "clever enough" to avoid a direct fight. But his supporters, to the party's detriment, go public with the group's grievances.


It is natural the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) expects Karnataka chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa to ensure that his party pockets as many seats as possible in the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections. The big question, however, is whether he will be able to deliver, given the turmoil in the party's state unit. The government is less than a year old and the BJP's first in south India, but its members seem to be suffering from a too-early heartburn, and describe the organisational problems that are darkening the party's election prospects as "monumental". In 2004, the party won 18 of the state's 28 Lok Sabha seats. Its strategists are now worrying about even keeping that score, leave alone improving on it.

Of the several reasons for this, the most apparent is the personality clash between Yediyurappa and H.N. Ananth Kumar, a national general secretary of the party and former Union minister. It is reliably learnt that Ananth Kumar is unhappy with Yediyurappa's "dictatorial" style and the "unilateral" manner in which he has gone about distributing the first round of tickets. The chief minister ensured a ticket for his son B.Y. Raghavendra, was generous to people poached from the Congress and the JD(S), and—such is the perception—denied tickets to party loyalists, particularly Ananth Kumar's supporters. This has set off the Ananth Kumar group against Yediyurappa, who has communicated his concerns to the party's national president, Rajnath Singh.

The following, according to sources, are Yediyurappa's complaints:
  • Ananth Kumar has constantly tried to "destabilise" his government and has for years been trying to marginalise his presence in the party.
  • A "caucus" led by Ananth Kumar is constantly "conspiring" against his government. Among it members, he says, are senior leaders such as former Union minister Basanagouda Patil Yatnal, former party president B.V. Shivappa, former Lok Sabha deputy speaker S. Mallikarjunaiah, sitting MPs K.B. Shanappa and Prahalad Joshi, assembly speaker Jagadish Shettar and former MP Ramesh Jigajinagi.
  • The throw-weight Reddy brothers of Bellary—Karunakar and Janardhan—are also among his detractors.
  • Ananth Kumar has cleverly avoided a direct fight, but his supporters, like Yatnal, Shanappa and Shivappa, have aired the group's grievances in public.

The chief minister's concerns aren't without substance. Yatnal and company wanted to start a 'Save BJP' campaign in the state, and he even dared the party to expel him. According to those in the know, their confidence stems from Ananth Kumar's support. But there are those who play down the rift between the two leaders. D.H. Shankara Murthy, a veteran BJP leader and deputy chairman of the state planning commission, says: "Two people can't behave similarly. Their styles are different and naturally, there are differences. But you should remember they have together built the party for 25 years and always planned strategy together. Every party passes through turmoil during elections, but it will all settle down soon."

The Yediyurappa-Ananth Kumar tussle is comparable to that between H.D. Deve Gowda and Ramakrishna Hegde in the '80s and '90s. Yediyurappa is a mass leader with enormous 'native intelligence' and hails from a majority community of the state while Ananth Kumar is a Brahmin with limited electoral influence. Political observers say Yediyurappa has borrowed an arrow or two from Gowda's quiver, brilliantly timing the entry of his son into politics, being ruthless in dealings with partymen and brazen in his appointments. Ananth Kumar, on the other hand, handles the media well, like Hegde, and like him makes smart, cutting moves.

From the election point of view, this personality clash may inflict collateral damage on some vital areas of support for the BJP and some anxious party officials think the ripples of this conflict could spread fast and wide. They point to the brewing discontent in Yediyurappa's own Lingayat community, which has been steady support base of the party. The largest sub-sect within the community, the Panchamasalis, said to constitute over 65 per cent of the Lingayats in the state, are unhappy that they have consistently got a raw deal in the BJP's power structure. Their grouse is that the relatively small Banajiga Lingayat group, to which Yediyurappa belongs, has dominated the political space. Of the Lok Sabha tickets distributed so far, the Banajigas have got five and the Panchamasalis only one, and quite a weak candidate at that.

Also, most Lingayats who have rebelled against Yediyurappa, like Yatnal, Manjunath Kannur (an MP who cross-voted during the nuclear debate), former Union minister Babagouda Patil (who recently left the party) and B.V. Shivappa are all prominent Panchamasalis. But the Yediyurappa camp expectedly denies that such dissatisfaction exists; it alleges that all that talk is the work of the Ananth Kumar camp.

Another area of concern is the Madiga community, a large SC group that has consistently voted BJP but is unhappy that the Chalavadis, a smaller SC group, are increasingly being preferred by Yediyurappa. The Madigas have only one representative in the cabinet, and Shanappa and Ramesh Jigajinagi, who have spoken out against Yediyurappa and are seen as Ananth Kumar supporters, are from this community.

Yediyurappa's handling of this crisis in BJP's first south Indian state will decide how many seats he will deliver to the NDA kitty in Election '09.

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