The Bharatiya Janata Party seems to be falling back on its seasoned oarsman BS Yediyurappa making him a key poll mascot, along with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as it shores up campaign in poll-bound Karnataka.
The octogenarian, who has already announced his retirement from electoral politics, is sought to be put on the pedestal by the governing party's central leaders.
The reasons are not far to seek as to why Yediyurappa has been pushed to the top of the campaign plank, the four-time Chief Minister, who built the party from grassroots level, has a mass appeal and connect -- particularly the political influential Lingayat community -- that no other party leader in the State commands.
It's now quite evident from the BJP's campaign narrative that the party is banking on the "Yediyurappa factor" and putting him up as the "poster boy" by leveraging his clout to the hilt.
The BJP central leadership -- Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah, party President J P Nadda and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh -- have been lavish in their praise of Yediyurappa, during their public meetings in the State in recent days.
It's not often that in PM's programme, someone else hogs the limelight, but on one such occasion on February 27, at a public meeting in Shivamogga, it appeared that Modi himself was giving the Karnataka BJP strongman a 'pride of place' in his "Karma Bhoomi".
The recent public meeting marking the inauguration of the Shivamogga airport, coinciding with Yediyurappa's 80th birthday, saw Modi terming his contributions to public life 'inspirational.'
The PM felicitated him on stage as he made an appeal to the people attending the public meeting to flash their mobile phone lights in a gesture of honour to Yediyurappa and there was an enthusiastic response from the large gathering.
Then, as the Lingayat strongman concluded his speech, Modi stood up and applauded him.
The PM has also made it a point repeatedly to highlight the last speech delivered by Yediyurappa in the Karnataka assembly recently, and said it was an inspiration to every person in public life.
Amit Shah too at a public meeting recently had urged the people to repose faith in Modi and Yediyurappa and vote the BJP back to power in the State.
Similar comments have been made by Nadda and Rajnath Singh, who were recently in the state for campaigning.
According to some political observers and BJP insiders, the party's move to project Yediyurappa seems to be aimed at blunting anti-incumbency, keeping the Lingayat vote-base intact and countering the opposition Congress, which has levelled allegations of corruption against the government.
Political analyst A Narayana from the Azim Premji University, said the BJP was initially preparing to face elections without Yediyurappa in an active role but "as there was not much for the party to count on locally, it was inevitable for them to repackage and present him".
That's the reason they are going out of their way to prove that they have not offended him by asking to resign as chief minister in 2021, he said.
"They (BJP) tried their best to secure Lingayat support without Yediyurappa, but they are not very confident about it, that's the reason they are doing it. They could have afforded to lose some Lingayat support, provided they were confident about cultivating support from some other communities, which also they don't seem to be very confident about ," Narayana said.
Yediyurappa resigned as CM on July 26, 2021. Age was seen as a primary factor for his exit from the top job, with an unwritten rule in the BJP of keeping out those above 75 years from elected offices.
Also, the BJP central leadership wanted to make way for new leadership ahead of the Assembly polls.
Unlike the 2018 poll campaign, when Yediyurappa was the CM candidate and face of the party, the BJP this time has opted for a collective approach, though it initially tried to project Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai's leadership.
Narayana said: "BJP tried to win over Lingayats through Bommai, but they don't seem to be confident about having achieved that, with all the discontent brewing on issues such as reservation. "
"Also as long as Yediyurappa is there and as long as he is an unhappy man, it is not possible for another Lingayat leader to cultivate Lingayat support", he said, adding that this is quite obviously one of the reasons why BJP wants to keep Yediyrappa in good spirits.
With the party now putting Yediyurappa in the forefront of campaign, Bommai's stake seems to have weakened, according to poll observers and some within the BJP, even as a section within the party credits him for pro-people schemes, reservation hike for SC/ST and for presenting an all inclusive budget.
According to another party functionary, retaining Lingayat vote base, despite Yediyurappa not being its CM face, is crucial for the BJP to win the election with absolute majority, and that's the reason why the party wants to assure the dominant community, that he is still relevant to it.
He also pointed to disgruntlement among a section of Lingayat community, especially the 'Panchamasali Lingayats' on the issue of reservation, and said it may pose a threat, and it needs to be mitigated immediately.
"It has to be communicated effectively that along with being the BJP's top Parliamentary Board member, Yediyurappa is still the party's face or mascot in Karnataka," he said.
BJP state general secretary N Ravi Kumar said Yediyurappa is a big mass leader in Karnataka and he is someone who built and nurtured the party in the state.
"He is a four time CM and two time Leader of Opposition, he knows nook and corner of the state, he is leader of all communities including Lingayats, and people from all sections respect him. He is naturally projected as one of the faces, what is wrong?" Ravi Kumar asked.
"There may be some amount of anti-incumbency, I'm not totally rejecting it, all governments will have it, but Bommai has given a good budget and has given good programmes....it is the creation of Congress, why didn't they speak positively about Yediyurappa so far and are doing it now? it is because Congress' strategy is to attract positive public opinion about Yediyurappa in their favour," he said.
Yediyurappa too on his part had recently appealed to the dominant Veerashaiva-Lingayat community, to which he belongs, to continue their support to the ruling BJP in the upcoming Assembly polls, and ensure its victory in the State.
This statement has come amid attempts by opposition Congress and JD(S) to project that Yediyurappa is being sidelined by the BJP, as they sought to woo the numerically and politically dominant community.
Veerashaiva-Lingayats are estimated to form about 17 per cent of the State's population, and they form the BJP's strong vote base. Yediyurappa is considered to be the 'tallest' Veerashaiva-Lingayat leader and continues to hold sway over the community.
It appears that the former CM, in return, is seeking to secure the political future of his sons.
While announcing that he will not contest assembly polls, Yediyurappa in the same breath had said that he will be vacating his Shikaripura Assembly seat, from where his younger son and the party's state Vice-President B Y Vijayendra will be contesting, if the high command agrees.
Yediyurappa, soon after stepping down as CM in 2021, wanted to make Vijayendra Minister, through the MLC route, but was not successful in his attempts. His elder son, B Y Raghavendra is Member of Parliament from Shivamogga.