BJP's tallest leader in Karnataka, BS Yediyurappa, has resigned as chief minister on 26 July, the day he completed two years in office.
He became the the third BJP chief minister in the country to be removed in the last six months, the other two being Trivendra Singh Rawat and Tirath Singh Rawat, both in Uttarakhand.
Another CM - Sarbananda Sonowal in Assam - was replaced after the BJP's victory in the state elections.
A new chief minister of Karnataka is likely to be announced in the next few days and he or she will be faced with the challenge of steering the government for the next 21 months, until the 2023 Assembly elections.
While Yediyurappa's removal was imminent as the 78-year-old was well past the BJP's 75-years' retirement age, it won't be without a political cost. It is believed that the manner in which Yediyurappa resigned, especially his tearful speech, could harm the BJP among Lingayats for whom he was the undisputed leader.
Historical precedents, too, aren't on the BJP's side and this is what the article will be focusing on.
There are three questions to be examined here:
Have changes of guard worked for the BJP in Karnataka or any other state?
Has changing the CM worked for any party in Karnataka?
What could lie ahead?
HAS CHANGING CMs WORKED FOR THE BJP ANYWHERE?
The most relevant example is the BJP's previous tenure in Karnataka, from 2008 to 2013. The party won the 2008 elections under Yediyurappa's leadership but he was made to resign three years and two months into his term, after the Lokayukta indicted him for allegedly profiteering from land deals in Bangalore and Shivamoga and also in connection with illegal mining in Bellary.
In the remaining two years, the BJP had two chief ministers - DV Sadananda Gowda (2011-12) and Jagadish Shettar (2012-13). Meanwhile, Yediyurappa left the BJP and formed a new party - the Karnataka Janata Paksha. This proved to be disastrous for the BJP as it lost the 2013 Assembly elections to the Congress.
However, the BJP's isn't an isolated case in Karnataka. But more on that in the next section.
Outside Karnataka, the BJP has had mixed luck with changing CMs. Other than Karnataka, there are three other examples of changing CMs not working out for the BJP.
In Delhi, the BJP had three chief ministers between 1993 and 1998: Madan Lal Khurana (1993-1996), Sahib Singh Verma (1996-1998) and Sushma Swaraj for just 52 days in 1998. The party lost badly in the 1998 Assembly polls and has been out of power in Delhi ever since.
In Uttarakhand, the BJP has had a particularly bad experience.
It had two chief ministers between 2000 and 2002: Nityanand Swamy (2000-2001) and Bhagat Singh Koshyari (2001-2002) and lost in the 2002 Assembly elections to the Congress.
Again between 2007 and 2012, it changed CMs twice - BC Khanduri (2007-2009), Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank (2009-2011) and Khanduri again (2011-12). Not surprisingly, it lost the 2012 Assembly elections to the Congress.
Now again it has changed three chief ministers in Uttarakhand: Trivendra Singh Rawat (2017-21), Tirath Singh Rawat (March to July 2021) and now Pushkar Dhami.
If the 2002 and 2012 elections are any indication, BJP may find it difficult to get re-elected in Uttarakhand in 2022.
Then in the crucial state of Uttar Pradesh, the BJP had three chief ministers between 1997 and 2002: Kalyan Singh (1997-1999), Ram Prakash Gupta (1999-2000) and Rajnath Singh (2000-2002). It stood third in the 2002 elections, with its tally falling from 156 to 88.
However, there are a few states where a change hasn't harmed the BJP. In fact, at least two new chief ministers ended up having highly successful tenures.
Exception 1: Gujarat
The most prominent example of this is the present Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He took over as Gujarat chief minister from Keshubhai Patel in 2001. At that time, he was perceived as an 'organisation man' and a 'political lightweight' compared to the Patidar chieftain. But he won three elections as CM (2002, 2007 and 2012) and marginalised Patel from state politics. Of course, it must be said that his success in 2002 was largely due to unprecedented communal consolidation following the anti-Muslim pogrom earlier that year.
Exception 2: Madhya Pradesh
Another example is present Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan. He took office in 2005 as the third CM in two years, after Uma Bharti (2003-2004) and Babulal Gaur (2004-2005). At that time, Chouhan was seen as a leader who couldn't match Bharti's charisma or Gaur's seniority. Yet after initial hiccups, he took control of the party and administration and won two more terms - 2008 and 2013. He became CM yet again in 2020 after the Congress lost its majority due to defections.
HAS CHANGING CM WORKED FOR ANY PARTY IN KARNATAKA?
Karnataka has had a history of political instability mainly due to its regional and caste diversity, existence of multiple political players and interference from the central leadership of parties.
Only four out of 19 chief ministers have completed their terms so far - S Nijalingappa (1962-67), Devaraj Urs (1972-77), SM Krishna (1999-2004) and Siddaramaiah (2013-2018) - all from the Congress.
In almost all occasions, the party that has replaced a chief minister in the middle of his term, for whatever reasons, has suffered in the next election.
After a full term, Devaraj Urs became CM once again in 1978 but left Congress in 1979 but many of the MLAs loyal to him returned to Congress after it came back to power at the centre in 1980. The Congress made Gundu Rao the CM in 1980 but the Congress was defeated in the 1983 elections and Janata Party's Ramakrishna Hegde formed a non-Congress government.
Elections were held again in 1985, in which Hegde won a majority. But he quit in 1988 following allegations of phone-tapping of opponents. SR Bommai became the CM till his government was dismissed by the Governor in 1989.
The Janata Party's breakaway, Janata Dal, lost the election in 1989 and Bommai was defeated in his own constituency.
But despite Congress winning a majority, the political instability didn't end as it had three chief ministers during its five year tenure - Veerendra Patil (1989-90), S Bangarappa (1990-92) and Veerappa Moily (1992-94). But the party paid a price for it in 1994, coming third in the elections which were won by the Janata Dal led by HD Deve Gowda. The BJP, led by Yediyurappa, came second.
Deve Gowda moved to the Centre as Prime Minister in 1996 and was replaced by JH Patel. Not surprisingly, the Janata Dal lost power in 1999 to the Congress.
The Congress and Janata Dal (Secular) formed a coalition government from 2004 to 2007 with two CMs - Dharam Singh and HD Kumaraswamy. This period of instability led to the BJP coming to power in 2008. What happened during the BJP's term has already been discussed above.
WHAT COULD LIE AHEAD?
Of course, it's not as if CMs who completed terms fared much better at the hustings - the Congress' seats reduced significantly under both full-term CMs - SM Krishna in 2004 and Siddaramaiah in 2018.
So given Karnataka's political history, the odds are stacked against any CM who replaces Yediyurappa.
However, the BJP could draw solace from the examples of Modi in Gujarat and Shivraj Chouhan in MP. But does it have a leader in Karnataka who can do what these two leaders did in their respective states?
It won't be easy for a number of reasons.
Firstly, a great deal would depend on how entrenched the BJP and RSS have become in Karnataka's political and social landscape.
The BJP's gained political power in MP and Gujarat over a decade before Karnataka. MP had a BJP government in 1990, Gujarat in 1995. In Karnataka, it happened only in 2008.
The penetration of the RSS has also been much deeper in the other two states, compared to Karnataka.
The other issue is that the Opposition is far stronger in Karnataka. With Yediuyurappa gone, Congress' Siddaramaiah is the most prominent leader with state wide appeal. The Congress also has a strong state president in DK Shivakumar. Then HD Kumaraswamy's JD(S) is also influential in its pockets in the Old Mysore region.
Any successor to Yediyurappa would have to work under the shadows of both a towering predecessor as well as three powerful Opposition figures in Siddaramaiah, Kumaraswamy and Shivakumar.
There are only three circumstances in which the BJP can hope to come back to power in Karnataka: a massive Hindutva surge, an implosion in the Congress or an alliance with the JD(S).
The BJP's choice as CM could well be determined based on who is best placed to achieve either of these three purposes.
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