Former Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa is the BJP’s chief ministerial candidate for the upcoming April-May assembly polls in the South Indian state. Many observers argue that Yeddyurappa’s Lingayat identity and his acquittal from the illegal mining case are obvious reasons for him to re-emerge as the face of the BJP in the state. But the recent developments around Lingayat issue in the state and Yeddyurappa’s association with the mining lord G Janardhana Reddy (who is facing tons of illegal mining cases) and its implications in public domain especially in the mining belt, posit major challenges to the BJP in Karnataka. Also, Yeddyurappa’s promise in 2017 to settle the Mahadayi river dispute with the neighboring BJP ruled Goa through dialogue remained unsettled which further drew farmers’ opposition towards him in the north Karnataka region.
Lingayats constitute about 10 percent population in the state. One longstanding demand of the dominant caste in the state has been their recognition as ‘religious minority’. The major claim has been that Lingayats follow teachings of the 12th-century poet-philosopher Basavanna and recognize themselves as a separate identity from the Hindu orthodox. The Yeddyurappa-led BJP had so far kept silent on this issue. However, this March, the committee, appointed by CM Siddaramaiah, has come out with recommendations on this issue and the state cabinet is expected to take a decision over it. Thus, if the demand of Lingayats would be meted out before the assembly elections, Lingayat leaders in the Congress government would claim the benefit, as a result reducing Yeddyurappa’s vote base among the community.
In May 2008, BJP formed government in Karnataka under Yeddyurappa's leadership. However, within three years of his rule as CM, Yeddyurappa had resigned from his post in July 2011, after a Lokayukta report made serious allegations against him and his family in the illegal mining operations then prevalent in the state. According to the report, illegal mining and transportation of iron ore have resulted in a loss of Rs 16,085 crore for the period 2006-10 to the state exchequer which resulted in a CBI probe into the matter. While Yeddyurappa and his family members were acquitted from the charges levied against them in October 2016, with no substantial evidence proved against them, Yeddyurappa faces the guilt that he undermined numerous reports on illegal mining mafia in the state during his rule. G Janardhan Reddy, the former Cabinet Minister for Tourism and Infrastructure in Yedurappa Cabinet, has remained to be a close aid of Yeddyurappa. A substantial opposition towards Janardhan Reddy’s mining operations in the state, from numerous civil society organisations, would yield negative implications against BJP, despite the influence of the financial power of the mining behemoth.
The parched districts of Belgaum, Dharwad and Gadag in north Karnataka would benefit from the construction of Kalasa-Banduri Nala project which requires water from the Mahadayi River. Since the 1980s, there has been water-sharing dispute between Karnataka and Goa. The present Siddaramaiah led Congress government had blamed the BJP government in Goa for delay in resolving the issue. Last year when hundreds of farmers from north Karnataka protested for the release of Mahadayi waters, Yeddyurappa promised to resolve the issue but failed to do so. In 2008, under Yeddyurappa’s rule, one farmer from North Karnataka was killed in police firing and he was one among the hundreds of farmers who protested against the shortage of fertilizers in the state.
A recent survey by Association for Democratic Reforms projected that 42 percent of the voters would be casting votes based on the CM candidate. Pitted against Siddaramaiah and H D Kumaraswamy-JD(S) CM candidate, Yeddyurappa would certainly need to overcome the above implications for the impending electoral battle to become the next chief minister of the state.