Even as the alleged audio call of Karnataka BJP chief Nalin Kumar Kateel, hinting at a possible leadership change in the state, fueled more speculation about BS Yediyurappa’s departure as Chief Minister, senior BJP leader Basavaraj Patil Yatnal said on Monday. that the party’s central leadership will soon elect. a new CM, someone who is “honest, pro-Hindu and capable of bringing the BJP back to power”.
The leaked audio, which has a voice similar to Kateel’s – he has denied any links to the audio and dismissed it as fake – indicates that one of the three Karnataka leaders currently based in Delhi is being sent as CM to replace Yediyurappa, 78.
Yediyurappa, who returned from Delhi on Saturday, made no statement on Monday to emphasize his continuation in office for the remaining two years of the BJP government’s tenure.
Yatnal, a former Union minister, MLA from Bijapur in northern Karnataka, and seen as one of the most prominent Yediyurappa bosses in recent days, said on Monday: “I do not participate in any race. The Prime Minister will choose a leader who is honest, pro-Hindu and capable of taking the party to power as CM in the next polls.”
Karnataka is to hold parliamentary elections in 2023.
Yatnal is considered to have a great chance of becoming the next CM as he is from the Lingayat community – like Yediyurappa – but from a larger and backward sub-caste, Panchamsali. He was at the forefront of an agitation earlier this year by the Panchamsali Lingayats, who sought recognition as a backward caste group.
The Delhi-based leaders whose names are circulating as frontrunners for the CM post are Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi, BJP Secretary for National Organization BL Santhosh – both are Brahmins – and Party National General Secretary CT Ravi, who comes from is from the Vokkaliga community.
But if BJP chooses to go with a leader from the Lingayat community – as a replacement for Lingayat strongman Yediyurappa – then businessman-politician and state minister of mining is Murugesh Nirani; young MLA Arvind Bellad (son of a veteran RSS and BJP leader); and Yatnal are considered in the reckoning.
“It is said that until a few weeks ago Arvind Bellad was very close to becoming the CM,” said a source at BJP. Bellad, 51, claimed a few weeks ago that his phone was tapped by the state government. A police investigation was held, but the allegations were not established.
Nirani runs sugar and ethanol factories in northern Karnataka. Interior Minister Amit Shah had visited his sugar factory earlier this year on a tour of the state. On Monday, Nirani visited Varanasi amid rumors of a change in leadership in the state.
He has denied being an aspirant for the CM post.
Yatnal also said on Monday: “Yediyurappa should have brought someone to Delhi whom he sees as his replacement. His close associate Basvaraj Bommai was there, the noble Govind Karjol was there, the effective speaker R Ashok (state revenue minister) was there… but none of them were taken.”
Among the current crop of ministers in the Yediyurappa government, several have been expected to hold the post, but they do not appear to have found favor yet.
Bommai — who hails from the Lingayat community, is the son of former Prime Minister SR Bommai and a close associate of Yediyurappa — was most likely expected to replace the CM in March this year, but appears to have secured Yediyurappa’s approval. Transport Minister and Deputy CM Laxman Savadi, also from the Lingayat community, was seen as a frontrunner for a while as a replacement for Yediyurappa in the early days of the BJP government.
Finance Minister R Ashok, who is from the Vokkaliga community, and Deputy CM Govind Karjol, who is from a Dalit community, were also considered as possible contenders.
Other state leaders considered in the race include Karnataka’s third deputy CM, Dr. CN Ashwatnarayan, who is from the Vokkaliga community; former Minister of CM and Industries Jagadish Shettar; Minister Arvind Limbavalli; Assembly Chair Vishweshwara Hegde Kaggeri; BJP chief Sunil Kumar (among those who have rebelled against Yediyurappa); Minister of State V Somanna; and former Union Minister DV Sadananda Gowda.
“Lok Sabha MP Anant Kumar Hegde was also seen as a favourite, being groomed for greater responsibilities, but he has now fallen out of favor due to his tendency to make controversial statements,” a source in BJP said.
Meanwhile, the move to replace Yediyurappa as prime minister has been criticized by a Lingayat community leader in the opposition congress. “The BJP can face the wrath of Lingayats if they mistreat a tall leader like the Chief Minister. BJP should appreciate Yediyurappa’s contribution and treat him with dignity. This is my personal opinion…” said former Minister of State and Congress MB Patil.
However, former CM and Congress leader Siddaramaiah said, “It is good that a corrupt government and corrupt CM are disappearing. We are ready for polls at any time, but we don’t feel the election is near. They will make someone else the CM if they remove Yediyurappa.”
Meanwhile, Yediyurappa on Monday ordered the release of Rs 1,277 crore funds to MLA constituencies through the rural development department in what is seen as an attempt to appease BJP MLAs ahead of a legislative party meeting on July 26. The MLAs have demanded release of the funds for a while.
Yediyurappa has been accused by some BJP lawmakers of releasing funds only to Congressional constituencies and JD(S) leaders, while withholding funds from BJP MLAs. “This is a three-party government, not a BJP government,” State Tourism Minister CP Yogeshwar – one of the rebels – had claimed a few weeks ago.