Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa’s ‘give back’ in the form of cabinet berths to former Congress and JD(S) MLAs who rebelled against their erstwhile parties to help him realise his dream to form the government is fuelling anger among senior party legislators who were ministerial aspirants.
Yediyurappa announced that he would be filling 13 cabinet berths on February 6 by taking 10 of the 12 BJP MLAs who got elected in the Assembly bye-polls last December and another three legislators from the party. This will be his second expansion of the cabinet after the previous one on August 20 last year. In the 34-member ministry, there were 16 vacancies that Yediyurappa had deliberately not filled as he was waiting for the Supreme Court order on the disqualified MLAs.
After Yediyurappa announced the cabinet expansion’s date on Sunday, the anger and disappointment was not confined to just the old-timers in the party, but also engulfed disqualified MLAs who were defeated in the bye-polls. The reason: at the time of admitting the 16 turncoat former MLAs into the party Yediyurappa had introduced them as “future MLAs and ministers” irrespective of bye-poll consequences.
Defeated former MLAs AH Vishwanath and MTB Nagaraj have put up a chorus that Yediyurappa will not let them down on the promise. “In the BJP, I don’t know anyone except Yediyurappa and I have complete confidence that he will keep his word,” Vishwanath said.
On the other hand, elected MLA Mahesh Kumathalli, who is speculated to miss the bus, is upset. “I’m deeply hurt and willing to do whatever Yediyurappa assigns me, including sweeping the BJP office floor,” he maintained.
As deputy Chief Minister Laxman Savadi, also a Lingayat like Kumathalli, hails from Athani constituency in Belagavi district represented by him, the latter is expected to be kept out of the cabinet. Savadi, who is not a member of either Houses of the Karnataka legislature, will be accommodated in the legislative council in the lone vacancy, for which poll is scheduled later this month.
“Politics is like flowing water, things have to be accommodated according to time. There is change in the situation now from what it was then. Yediyurappa will be able to convince all those who are going to be disappointed,” state BJP spokesperson Vaman Acharya said.
According to party sources, the BJP central leadership is not in favour of taking the defeated MLAs. “When the constituents did not accept them, why should they be in the cabinet, barring an exception made in the case of Savadi, who was made the deputy CM,” they added.
Party insiders said Savadi along with Govind M Karjol (Scheduled Caste) and CN Ashwathanarayana (Vokkaliga) as deputy CMs were the central leadership choices. The party wanted to project an upcoming, Lingayat face and Savadi was the best bet. “In Maharashtra the party selected Devendra Fadnavis for the CM’s post, someone who had never been a minister despite being an MLA. He had functioned as mayor of Nagpur and did a good job as the CM,” they added.
BJP loyalists upset
Discontent is seething after it became known that only three amongst them will be taken, with Umesh V Katti, Aravind Limbavalli, Halappa Basappa Achar, V Sunil Kumar and CP Yogeeshwar (former legislator) tipped for the berths. Seniors like Basannagouda Patil (Yetnal), Murugesh Nirani, Nehru Olekar (north Karnataka), KG Bopaiah and Appachu Ranjan (Kodagu), S Angara (coastal), GH Thippa Reddy and Gulhatti D Shekar (Chitradurga), and SA Ramdas (Mysuru) are among the aspirants who have pinned hopes from the beginning.
A party insider said cabinet formation or expansion is usually preceded by the party’s core committee shortlisting names before they are forwarded to the high command. The core committee meeting scheduled recently was cancelled by Yediyurappa.
“The simmering discontent can be contained if the central leadership takes ownership of the cabinet formation, but the situation is not so. In the event of dissent, there is no core committee that can quell it nor does the writ of any of the 25 MPs from the state runs large to check any rebellion,” sources said.
Seniors say it is now or never
A ministerial aspirant said there was no hope for them in the three vacancies, which Yediyurappa will keep after the expansion. Of the 17 Congress-JD(S) MLAs who were disqualified, bye-polls were not held for Maski in Raichur district and Rajarajeshwari Nagar in Bengaluru due to court cases. The CM is said to be waiting for these two constituencies to be filled and also reward former minister R Shankar, who quit the Kumaraswamy government but was not given a ticket from Ranebennur in the bye-poll.
The travails of cabinet expansion are likely to spill over during the portfolio allocation. The sure shots have started lobbying for portfolios, such as Yeshwanthpur MLA ST Somashekar, who has set his eyes on urban development. This has also rattled the present ministers in the cabinet with the CM hinting that he is yet to take a call on expansion along with reshuffle.
“With Yediyurappa finally setting a date for the expansion, the only exercise now will be push and pull by the legislators. It is unlikely that those who lose out will give up easily. They will exert pressure and it has to be seen to what extent,” a party insider said.
Naheed Ataulla is a journalist who has covered Karnataka politics for over two decades, and is a former Political Editor of The Times of India. Views expressed are the author's own.