The BJP high command, contemplating a change of leadership in Karnataka, has adopted a cautious approach in giving shape to its plans.

Party sources explain that in no way the party wants to send a wrong message to Lingayat vote base which is propelling the party to power in the state.

CM Yediyurappa
Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa (file photo)@BSYBJP/Twitter

Presently, B.S. Yediyurappa, the Chief Minister of Karnataka, is the unquestionable leader of the community. However, since he is 78 years old, the party wants a change of guard.

His detractors within the party maintain that Yediyurappa does not pursue aggressive Hindutva.

Unlike many other BJP leaders, Yediyurappa enjoys the support of the minorities and other community leaders and it is not easy to disturb him.

Lingayats in K'taka and polls

Lingayats have been powerful since the pre-independence period in the state. The community derives strength from its religious 'mutts' spread across the state and their huge public following cutting across caste lines.

The community is economically strong and after unification of the state in 1956, until the Congress party was split at the time of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1969, Lingayat CMs ruled the state one after the other.

Y.N. Goudar, senior political analyst, says, Yediyurappa enjoys Lingayat and Panchapeeta religious mutt's support. After Ramakrishna Hegde, former Chief Minister of the state who enjoyed the support of Lingayats, Yediyurappa is the one they back, says M.P. Renukacharya, BJP MLA.

His defiance of seniors has been a worrying factor, say party leaders. Yediyurappa had challenged L.K. Advani when asked to resign as chief minister in 2011. He even broke up with the party and launched his own KJP party in 2012.

Karnataka chief minister BS Yediyurappa
Karnataka chief minister BS YediyurappaTwitter

By garnering 10 per cent of votes, Yediyurappa ensured the defeat of the BJP in the 2013 general elections. During the first wave of Covid, his statement that disciplinary action would be initiated against those targeting the minority communities drew criticism from hardliners in the party.

The Lingayat community, which accounts for 17 to 22 per cent of the state's population, plays a dominant role in elections. Lingayat voters hold sway in as many as 100 Assembly constituencies in north Karnataka.

Barring the coastal belt and a few districts, the presence of Lingayat voters is felt across the state. As many as 58 MLAs belonging to the community are elected in the present Assembly -- 38 MLAs among them belong to the BJP.

Political pundits say that Congress party leader and then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi had unceremoniously declared the exit of then Chief Minister Veerendra Patil in 1990 from the airport before leaving for New Delhi. After this, the Lingayat vote turned towards the BJP and boosted its prospects in the state.

Veerendra Patil, a Lingayat, had led the Congress party to a big victory in the elections held a year ago by winning 184 seats in the 224-seat Karnataka Assembly. After his exit, even though the Congress party came to power twice, its attempts to woo the Lingayats back to its fold failed. The BJP does not want to make the same mistake by easing out Yediyurappa, sources said.

Basavana Gouda Patil Yatnal, BJP MLA who was at the forefront demanding the change in leadership of the state, maintained that Yediyurappa had taken the Lingayat community for a ride. The Panchamasaali sub sect has moved away from him, and they comprise a large chunk in Lingayat vote base, he adds.

C.S. Dwarakanath, an influential public intellectual, explains that after independence major castes like the Lingayats and Vokkaligas dominated the political scenario. After that, backward classes gained representation when Devaraj Urs became chief minister in 1972 and 1978. Later, the state witnessed OBC-centric politics. Now, the focus has shifted from OBC to Most Backward Classes (MBC). They are aggressively pursued by mainstream political parties.

Caste politics will hopefully end and the next generation youth will break the shackles of caste, Dwarakanath said.

Priyank Kharge, former Congress minister, hinted that the BJP would implode in the coming days following the leadership row.

The BJP Central leadership attempted to create a parallel leader in the form of Lakshman Savadi by making him a Deputy Chief Minister though he lost elections and failed. This is the case with many other detractors of the Chief Minister who are unable to take the party to victory in elections.

In sum, the BJP wants a change of guard in Karnataka but wants to ensure an honourable exit for Yediyurappa.

(With inputs from IANS)