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India's Ruling BJP Faces Crisis in Karnataka as Lawmakers Revolt Against State Chief

© AP Photo / Kashif MasoodB.S. Yediyurappa (File)
B.S. Yediyurappa (File) - Sputnik International, 1920, 28.05.2021
Karnataka is the only southern state ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as the party performed miserably in the recent state elections in Tamil Nadu and Kerala. The party has 120 members in the 224-member state legislature, and Congress - the main opposition party - has 68 legislators.

Speculations are rife that the central leadership of India’s federally ruling BJP, which includes Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah, may ask Karnataka state chief Bookanakere Siddalingappa Yediyurappa - also known as BSY - to make way for a new face in the near future.

Several media reports have said that BSY is facing a revolt in his party because a group of BJP lawmakers is seeking for him to be removed because they are unhappy with his style of governing.

Though there have been at least six attempts to replace him as state chief in the past, this is the first time lawmakers have visited Delhi to express their dissatisfaction with him.

Signs of Disaffection for Karnataka State Chief

Trouble for Yediyurappa started after a number of BJP legislators held a meeting in the State capital city, Bengaluru, and discussed the issue of change in the state leadership.

According to a number of reports in the media, these legislators claimed that the BJP's central leadership has asked the State chief to convene a meeting with all the party's 120 lawmakers after 7 June when the statewide coronavirus lockdown will have ended.

Prime Minister Modi and former party president Amit Shah would take a call on the change of guard in the state, the lawmakers claimed. They said that a young face which is acceptable to all castes, should be chosen as the new leader of the party.

A few leaders, including State Tourism Minister Chakkere Puttamade Yogeeshwara and lawmaker Arvind Bellad reportedly went to Delhi to meet the party's top brass  - Prime Minister Modi and Shah - to discuss the issue of leadership change in the state.

Crisis in the Making – BJP Leaders Speak in Different Voice

Talking to Sputnik on Friday, the BJP's IT cell head Amit Malviya, however, denied that the Karnataka government was in crisis. "The government is focused on bringing relief to people in times of pandemic and that is the priority right now."

But Karnataka BJP spokesman Go Madhusudan admitted to Sputnik that a few legislators led by tourism minister Yogeeshwara, have indeed been trying to dislodge Yediyurappa from his position.

"Yogeeshwara rose to prominence in the BJP after he played a major role in the formation of the BJP government in the state. After being appointed State Tourism Minister, he wasn't satisfied, and his hunger to attain a higher position in the BJP grew to an extent that he planned a revolt against BSY,” said Madhusudan.

“He was under the illusion that the entire state BJP will stand behind him. But by plotting against BSY he was exposed in front of the party's leaders in both Karnataka and Delhi, who are now shunning him. He has lost all respect in the party and has nowhere to go in the BJP," the spokesman added.

Media reports say that the state legislators are asking for a change in the leadership because they are quite unhappy with their government's response to the coronavirus pandemic.

After Maharashtra, Karnataka is the worst-hit state in India, reporting 24,214 new COVID-19 cases and 476 deaths on 28 May. The total number of infections has reached 2.52 million and the death toll is 27,405 in the State.

Before the second wave of coronavirus, there were crucial elections held in five states. But the BJP performed poorly in the polls. The party also lost the bypoll to the Maski constituency in Karnataka, further denting Yediyurappa's reputation. The loss provided fresh political ammunition to his opponents within the party.

This is the second time in May the BJP has had to deal with reports of a change of guard in Karnataka.

Early this month, rumours spread wild after State Home Minister Basavaraj Bommai and Yediyurappa's son BY Vijayendra went on an unscheduled trip to Delhi. They met former party chief and Home Minister Amit Shah.

Despite repeated attempts by the media, neither Bommai or Vijayendra told why they met with Shah.

However, jettisoning Yediyurappa won't be easy for the BJP: He is the tallest leader the BJP has in southern India and possibly the best at attracting crowds in Karnataka after Prime Minister Modi.

Moreover, Yediyurappa belongs to the dominant Lingayat caste, which comprises approximately 17 percent of the state's population. Antagonising the community could hurt the party's prospects in the 2022 elections.

The Lingayats have voted overwhelmingly in favour of the BJP since Yediyurappa became state chief in 2008. Of the 20 leaders, who have ruled Karnataka state since 1956, eight have been from the Lingayat caste.

But a leadership change in Karnataka would not be unprecedented since earlier in March, the BJP replaced its state chief in Uttarakhand.

Awaiting fresh elections in 2022, BJP-ruled Uttarakhand got a new State Chief in Tirath Singh Rawat after Trivendra Singh Rawat was asked to make way for him.

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