November 11, 2023
A year after Mangaluru MP, Nalin Kumar Kateel, completed his 3-year term as President of BJP in Karnataka, is leaving his post to saffron party’s tallest Lingayat community strongman B S Yediyurappa’s son Vijayendra. Ironically, Kateel himself had succeeded Yediyurappa in 2019, and will now be replaced by the former BJP Chief Minister’s son.
The difference between Kateel and Vijayendra or Yediyurappa and Kateel is almost like chalk and cheese. First things first, Kateel belongs to Dakshina Kannada district’s politically powerful Bunt community, which is equivalent to the Vokkaliga community, holding sway in the Old Mysore region.
While Yediyurappa has passed his PUC, Kateel is just SSLC pass. The former had represented Shikaripur assembly constituency in Shivamogga district continuously for eight terms since 1983, excepting his defeat in 1999, which led his election to the Legislative Council, and has served as chief minister four times but has never completed a full term.
Kateel has been MP for the third consecutive term. Both have been active RSS workers, unlike Vijayendra, who has served only in the party. Vijayendra, however, has studied law and had briefly served as advocate before plunging full-time into politics. With Yediyurappa opting out of contest in the 2023 assembly polls, the son got the chance to become MLA for the first time. Incidentally, Kateel did his high school in St Philomena’s High School in Puttur, Vijayendra did his graduation in St Joseph’s College in Bengaluru, or in other words, both have studied in Christian institutions.
Leaving aside the comparisons, 47-year-old Vijayendra is credited with organizational skills, though he has held minor posts as Secretary in BJP Yuva Morcha and State BJP Vice President, and if party insiders are to be believed, he is acknowledged as the mastermind who helped BJP to win the by-polls in KR Pet of Mandya district, Sira in Tumakuru and Basavakalyan in Bidar. He, however, was denied the party ticket to contest from Varuna in Mysuru in 2018 against Congress chief minister Siddaramaiah’s son Dr Yatindra. Still, he continued to work for the BJP in the by-polls caused by the ouster of the H D Kumaraswamy-led JD(S)-Congress coalition rule following the ill-famous ‘Operation Kamala’.
But the big question mark over Vijayendra, as the country is heading towards the crucial 2024 Lok Sabha polls, is whether he will be able to retain – if not improve – the 25 out of the 28 seats won by BJP in the 2019 when the Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s charisma was considered invincible, especially after the party’s defeat in the 2023 assembly polls that saw Congress party returning to power with a 135 out of the 224 seats against barely 65 by BJP under the party’s chief minister Basavaraj Bommai, who incidentally was chosen to replace Yediyurappa after being asked to step down.
The opposition BJP is yet to name its opposition leaders in both houses of State Legislature even after six months since the assembly elections. The party high command, which had remained silent all these past six months, has finally decided to convene the BJP legislature party meeting to formally elect the leader of opposition in the assembly and also in the council on November 20 as both posts enjoy Cabinet minister’s rank and perks.
BJP’s decision to finally set its house in order comes in the backdrop of the party’s alliance with H D Deve Gowda-H D Kumaraswamy led JD(S) for the Lok Sabha polls. With the Gowda family counting on the Vokkaliga community to stand behind it at least in the coming parliamentary polls and BJP choosing Vijayendra from the Lingayat community, it is evident that the party might look for someone outside the two dominant Vokkaliga-Lingayat communities, preferably from the Backward Classes or Scheduled Tribes/Castes to balance the caste equations ahead of the all-important poll battle.
Notwithstanding his father’s pull among the Lingayat community and its seers, who hold considerable sway in the Northern Karnataka region as against the Gowda clan’s pull among the Vokkaligas in the Old Mysore region, it is doubtful whether Vijayendra will be able to carry the same weight and clout with the community leaders.
Being a virtual political greenhorn, who is yet to demonstrate his pull and prowess with the party’s rank and file, it will be a tough task for Vijayendra to carry almost all the senior party leaders along with him. He, of course, can count on his father for guidance and support. However, Yediyurappa, who is past 80, is not so agile and capable of doing the hard work that is necessary in electioneering and also sit through endless hours of negotiations with the party bosses and leaders.
The challenge before Vijayendra and his party becomes all the more daunting given the popularity of the guarantees implemented by the Congress government under chief minister Siddaramaiah and deputy chief minister D K Shivakumar.
While Siddaramaiah hails from the backward Kuruba community and enjoys mass following across the State and different castes and communities and Shivakumar being considered as the Vokkaliga community stalwart, who incidentally is known for his organizational skills and strategies that would surely a match to BJP’s Home Minister Amit Shah, acknowledged by the party as the ‘modern Chanakya’, Vijayendra will need all the skills and capabilities that his father is credited with to come out on top.
Though there have been rumblings within the ruling Congress party in the State with followers of Siddaramaiah and Shivakumar embroiled in a power struggle, they seem to have woken up to the perils of factionalism and have apparently decided to bury their differences to achieve the stated objective of winning 20 out of the 28 Lok Sabha seats, come what may. Though winning 20 might be a tall order, the Congress party will definitely be content if it is able to reach the half-way mark.
With Congress party being led by Mallikarjuna Kharge, a tallest Dalit leader from the State, and the Congress party’s first family of Gandhis – Sonia, Rahul and Priyanka – lending their full support to the Siddaramaiah-Shivakumar combine, it remains to be seen whether Modi-Shah duo’s full backing will bolster the prospects to help Vijayendra.
The next five to six months till the crucial parliamentary polls are pivotal for all the parties concerned. The specter of drought conditions in 216 out of the 223 taluks in the State and the ongoing tussle on the sharing of Cauvery waters might ease in the coming days even though the Congress regime has been constantly harping on the Modi’s regime’s continued neglect of Karnataka in releasing funds for drought relief or keeping off the Cauvery issue, which could click with voters if the situation exasperates.
All said and done, Vijayendra needs to grow in maturity and sagacity to carry the BJP rank and file with him and also win the hearts and imagination of the people. Any loose talk that Kateel was famous for or encouraging factions within the party is bound to work against him and come in the way of his emergence as a leader of substance on his own right!