Former Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa is a crucial figure in the BJP’s attempts to retain power in Karnataka, which goes to polls on May 10. The Lingayat strongman, despite, not contesting the elections, is the leader on whom the central leadership is depending to see the party to a victory.
In an interview, Yediyurappa speaks about rebellions in the state BJP, corruption allegations against the state government, the rise of his son BY Vijayendra, controversies such as the halal and hijab rows, and the support he receives from Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah.
This is the first election after a long time when you are not contesting. How are you seeing BJP’s prospects?
I have announced that I will not contest this election. But I am touring the entire state. The atmosphere is very good and we are in a very good position. The BJP will win an absolute majority, 101 per cent, and will form the government.
With Prime Minister Modi holding your hands at the Shivamogga airport inauguration and Union Home Minister Amit Shah coming to have breakfast with you, they have shown clear signals about how much the party regards you. What do you have to say about the BJP’s reliance on you in this election?
Prime Minister Modi is very affectionate to me. It was he who told me that the airport (Shivamogga) would be inaugurated on my 80th birthday. He told me this long ago, so I got the date fixed accordingly. That day he blessed me with a lot of affection.
Amit Shah came to my place for breakfast. He is also one of our tallest leaders and he also is affectionate to me. He also shows a lot of respect for me. Both Modi and Amit Shah want the BJP to come back to power in Karnataka for which he gives more time to the state. In future also, they will give time to Karnataka.
Is it not because the party relies on you? The BJP says it has a strong organisation and committed cadre. But it depends on you.
No, I don’t think so. There are so many important leaders. There are so many who work hard to bring the party back to power. Under their leadership, we will come back to the state.
A senior leader, Eshwarappa, seemed to be upset and announced his retirement from politics. Jagdish Shettar is also miffed. Will this not hurt the BJP?
Eshwarappa, just like me, decided not to contest the elections. That doesn’t mean that he is not going to campaign for the party. Today also he was in some constituency campaigning for the party. Shettar also, whether he gets a ticket or not, will work for the party and Karnataka.
But there are rebels. Will that affect the BJP’s prospects?
See, this Laxman Savadi has five years and two months more in his term as MLC. After coming to power, we would have definitely inducted him into the Cabinet. The party had made him Deputy CM. He left the party abruptly. Rebellions are not going to affect the BJP. In some constituencies, their (rebels’) exit may make a small difference but the party won’t get affected by it.
What are the challenges for the BJP right now?
According to me, Prime Minister Modi’s numerous welfare programmes, especially those for farmers and the welfare initiatives by the state government — when I was the Chief Minister I introduced the Bhagya Lakshmi programme for young girls and the programmes for milk farmers — will help the BJP to come back to power
You mentioned dairy farmers. Currently, there is a controversy over Amul’s entry into the state.
The question doesn’t arise. We are not going to encourage anything other than Nandini.
In this election, BJP faces corruption accusations and anti-incumbency. You were in power for the first half. What’s your comment on it?
There’s no truth in the corruption allegations. These are raised unnecessarily and they (the Opposition) make these accusations of 30% and 40% (commissions). The BJP raised issues of corruption and irregularities against the Siddaramaiah government during its term. No such cases went to the Lokayukta either. Now, what they are raising against the BJP are baseless allegations. These things do not affect the party at all.
You have been the strongest Lingayat leader and remain so. The community and its leadership tried to keep you in the post for this election too. But the BJP leadership replaced you with Basavaraj Bommai. Has he been able to win the community’s trust? How will you ensure that the community‘s vote is not divided?
According to me, Basavaraj Bommai is also accepted. His performance is very good. People are happy with him. For the Lingayat community, I am going around and convincing those who are not happy. I feel that the Lingayat community will support the BJP. There will not be an issue.
The BJP wants to win seats on its own in the Old Mysuru region, which has been a tough area for the party. How can the party do it?
We were weak in Mandya, Mysuru, and Chamarajanagar. But we have concentrated on that area and Mr Somanna is a very powerful leader in that area. Also, (B Y) Vijayendra is touring that area. Whatever concerns those areas have, we will address them and we are confident that we will get more seats. Mandya MP Sumalatha (Ambareesh) also is supporting us. For some technical reasons, she has not joined the BJP but she is backing the party.
Do you see Vijayendra as your successor? What role would you like him to play?
Definitely. Now he has been asked to contest in Shikaripura. Still, he is going around the state to campaign for the party. He is concentrating on other areas. Youth are very happy and enthusiastic about his leadership. The youth in every constituency is supporting Vijayendra, which will help the party.
So, why did he not contest from Varuna?
Because, we wanted him to contest in Shikaripura, my constituency, it was my constituency for more than 40 years. I do not want to leave that constituency. People there also wanted him there. That’s why.
What’s your take on the JD(S), which was an ally and is also a rival? Some say the BJP wants to use the post-poll scenario to reach out to it.
Not at all. We are going to get an absolute majority, a hundred per cent. The question of taking the support of another party does not arise. We are going to form the government on our own.
PM Modi is popular and he assured the party cadre recently that the BJP will return to power in 2024. But how far can he help the BJP to win a state election?
We have 25 MPs from Karnataka and after the next election also we will have them. Modi ji is very particular about Karnataka and he will tour the state. He has come four to five times and he will come again five to six times. Under the leadership of Modi ji, Amit Shah ji and other leaders, we will get an absolute majority. Wherever he comes to Karnataka, lakhs of people turn up. When he came to Shivmogga, more than three lakh people came.
What, according to you, is needed for a party to come back to power? A strong leader or good governance record?
Good governance is very important. Strong leadership is also necessary. At the Centre, we have Modi ji and Amit Shah ji, and Bommai is here as the Chief Minister. He has so many pro-poor people programmes and it will help.
There are only a few who can claim institutional history like you in the party now. What’s your advice to youngsters?
They should work hard and work in the interests of the country.
There were two major controversies in Karnataka. The hijab issue and the halal meat issue? How do you think the party handled those controversies?
I am not going to support such things. According to me, Hindus and Muslims should live like brothers and sisters. From the beginning, I have taken this stand. These were the issues that were not necessary. I will not support such things.
After Prime Minister Modi’s visit to a church in Delhi, some church leaders here said they had invited CM Bommai for church programmes for which you used to be present, but the CM did not turn up.
I used to go to Christian and Muslim programmes. Even other community programmes. Bommai also used to go. He should have gone for these if they had invited him. We must give importance to such programmes. He should go for such programmes.
The BJP government recently decided to scrap four per cent reservation for Muslims. The Supreme Court has said it was flawed.
Now that the Supreme Court has taken it up, we are going to abide by what the court says. We must obey the Supreme Court.
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In Karnataka, no party has returned to power for 35 years. Will the BJP break that?
101 per cent. There is no doubt about it.
Do you think Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra has helped the Congress in Karnataka?
Not at all. Not just in Karnataka, it is not going to have any impact anywhere.
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What do you think about some BJP leaders’ view that the so-called fight between Siddaramaiah and D K Shivakumar will help the BJP?
There is infighting, it is naturally going to help the BJP.
© The Indian Express (P) Ltd