In K'taka, the BJP looks to regroup under new leadership—but it’s a chip off the old block
To recapture the state, the BJP has dusted off an old formula: woo the Lingayats, moving Yediyurappa’s son up to lead the state unit
After its dismal performance in the Karnataka Assembly elections in May 2023, the central leadership of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) seems to have (finally, belatedly) realised that it cannot afford to sideline party veteran and Lingayat strongman B.S. Yediyurappa.
So the party has now decided to make a political investment in the younger generation of the family to lead its ‘comeback’ for the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.
Ending months of speculation over the naming of the Karnataka unit president, the BJP has appointed Yediyurappa's son and Shikaripura MLA B.Y. Vijayendra to the post late on the evening of Friday, 10 November.
Coming as a belated birthday gift to Vijayendra, who turned 50 on 5 November, the appointment seems a message that the party wants to vest responsibilities on younger shoulders.
Just two days ago, 70-year old Bengaluru North MP and former chief minister D.V. Sadananda Gowda announced his retirement from electoral politics after he was informed by the party that he would not be given a ticket to contest the Lok Sabha polls.
With this appointment, Yediyurappa and Vijayendra become the first father–son duo to have served in the state BJP’s leadership role. Yediyurappa has held the presidency of the state wing thrice already, and Vijayendra was chosen over several senior aspirants, including C.T. Ravi (Vokkaliga), V. Somanna and MLA Basannagouda Patil Yetnal (both Lingayats).
There was also speculation that Union minister Shobha Karandlaje, a one-time close confidant of Yediyurappa would be asked to head the state unit and take on Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee president and deputy chief minister D.K. Shivakumar—both are Vokkaliga leaders.
It is Vijayendra, however, who replaces Dakshina Kannada MP Nalin Kumar Kateel, whose term ended in August 2022 though he was asked to continue till the Assembly polls were done. Kateel, who was an appointee of BJP national general secretary (organisation) B.L. Santhosh, failed to make much of an impact during his tenure. The biggest advantage for the rank and file in the party in Vijayendra’s appointment is that Yediyurappa will be his guide and the latter is known to brook no dissidence.
A first-time MLA, Vijayendra did draw flak during Yediyurappa's tenure as chief minister from July 2019 to July 2021 for his reported interference in the administration. While Yediyurappa saw him as his political heir, Vijayendra was known in party circles as the de facto chief minister. He also earned his laurels, though, calming some of the criticism when the party won the K.R. Pet and Sira Assembly by-polls, seats where it had been unsuccessful at winning earlier.
Still, despite some hands-on experience and his sire’s support, Vijayendra step’s into a challenging role: the biggest challenge will be for him to bring the seniors in the party into alignment with himself, as many still consider him 'too junior'’ to guide the helm.
The Congress has gleefully claimed that many of the BJP workers and legislators now want to defect since their victory in the state. So Vijayendra, who himself had a key role in poaching 17 of the Congress and Janata Dal (Secular) MLAs in 2019 to help his father take office, will have to watch his own back now.
With the BJP and JD(S) having agreed to ally for the Lok Sabha polls, though, the Lingayat–Vokkaliga bonding may help his cause. In the 2023 Assembly elections, the BJP lost out on the votes of the scheduled castes and tribes, which largely went with the Congress. Its saving grace was the Lingayat community, which still stood by the party, and Vijayendra will look to capitalise on that advantage.
Soon after the presidency announcement, Vijayendra said: “Our goal is clearly the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. It’s a big challenge. At a time when the whole world is looking at our country and at Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Karnataka must win by contributing the maximum number of seats (for the BJP).”
Vijayendra added that the leader of the opposition in the Assembly would be appointed next week, after the party legislators meet on 17 November. The post has been vacant for seven months and with a Lingayat as the state president, BJP observers feel the party might consider appointing a person representing the Vokkaliga or one of the backward classes.