Ahead of a cabinet restructuring, panic and lobbying has begun. Deputy chief minister Laxman S Savadi was in New Delhi to lobby for his continuance in office.

Picture of Chief Minister of Karnataka BS Yediyurappa reclining on a leather armchair while wearing headphones and holding up a sheaf of papers He is wearing an all white safari suit and looks tense as it is a session in the Vidhana Soudha
news Politics Saturday, August 01, 2020 - 18:32

“Wait till August 15, I am going to become a minister,'' proclaimed eight-time BJP MLA Umesh V Katti, representing Hukkeri assembly constituency in Belagavi district. Having missed the cabinet berth in the two cabinet expansions of Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa, the political heavyweight from Belagavi district and sugar baron, Katti is certain that this time he will make it. Katti is not alone in staking claim for a ministerial post as the ‘berth pangs’ have started not only for those who are aspirants but ministers as well with indications that Yediyurappa is expected to get the nod from the BJP central leadership shortly to go in for a cabinet reshuffle and expansion.

Deputy Chief Minister Laxman S Savadi was the first to exhibit his panic on the cabinet restructuring exercise by dashing to New Delhi on July 27, skipping the event to mark Yediyurappa's one year in office. The visit created a flutter in BJP circles with speculations that he had gone to do the spadework for a change in leadership, but it was reportedly a solo action for his political resurgence and survival.

According to BJP sources, a reshuffle and filling of the six vacancies in the Karnataka cabinet is expected in August. Fighting the pandemic COVID-19, Yediyurappa who said that one has to live with the coronavirus is reportedly looking at overhauling his one-year-old cabinet. He had inducted 17 ministers including three deputy chief ministers on August 20, 2019 and 10 more on February 6, 2020, who were the disqualified Congress-JD(S) MLAs after they won the assembly by-polls on a BJP ticket. The Karnataka cabinet's strength is 34 including the CM.

It's learnt Savadi apprehended that he would be dropped in the cabinet reshuffle. A surprise entrant to the cabinet when he was not a member of either Houses of the Karnataka legislature, Savadi was propped up by the BJP high command to be groomed as an alternative to Yediyurappa, as both represent the Lingayat community. However, Savadi is said to have failed to meet the central leadership's expectations on many counts

Savadi is said to have camped in New Delhi to strengthen his case for continuance in the cabinet. While Savadi's was a case to stay afloat, it resulted in some names doing the rounds for the CM's post on the premise that the party was not happy with Yediyurappa. Prominent was Union minister Pralhad Joshi, who has been an aspirant for the post.

However, sources close to the BJP central leadership ruled out such a move. ”The  central leadership is not happy on many issues, but it is also aware that some ministers were imposed on Yediyurappa from the top. They are not looking at an alternative. While the ministers involved in COVID-19 control management are working at cross purposes the rest are not seen,'' they added.

BJP sources stated that Savadi's was an act of desperation and there were no indications of him being guided by someone at the top this time. “The present party high command does not guide prematurely, but waits and watches till the end before stepping in,'' a senior BJP functionary said.

He cited the example of Yediyurappa, who was keen on his son BY Vijayendra contesting from Varuna assembly constituency in 2018. Yediyurappa intensely campaigned for his son and at the last minute was told he has to give the 'B" form (which says a person is the party's official candidate) to another nominee. BJP/RSS functionary Ramlal called up Yediyurappa to inform that if he insists on giving the ‘B’ to Vijayendra, the central leadership will have to issue a ‘C’ form (which nullifies the B form), the functionary recalled.

Uphill task for BSY

The astute politician that he is, Yediyurappa is aware that he will not get be able to constitute a ‘please all’ or a ‘dream’ cabinet. Unlike his predecessors who nominated legislators as chairpersons of boards and corporations to mollify those missing the cabinet berth, the CM chose to do so in advance.

He had done this in October 2019 ahead of the by-polls to 15 assembly seats to placate the ticket aspirants as the BJP had decided to field the disqualified Congress-JD(S) MLAs from these constituencies. Of the eight appointments made, only one aspirant accepted it. Earlier, this week Yediyurappa replicated the same strategy but it backfired.

Of the 24 BJP MLAs appointed to the boards and corporations, the CM had to withdraw the notification to four such statutory bodies. Six-time MLA G H Thippa Reddy, a ministerial aspirant said it was an insult that he was offered a chairman's post. Another MLA MP Kumaraswamy also declined, while Nehru C Olekar representing Haveri said the CM was aware that he was keen on becoming a minister.

The biggest challenge for Yediyurappa will be tackling the aspirants from Belagavi district as it is over-represented in the present cabinet with Savadi, Ramesh L Jarkiholi, Shashikala Jolle and  Shrimanth Balasaheb Patil. In the 28 member cabinet (including Yediyurappa), of the 30 districts in Karnataka, 12 are still unrepresented. Bengaluru has the highest share with seven, followed by four from Belagavi, Shivamogga and Haveri two each, and 13 districts have one minister each. Dakshina Kannada, Bengaluru rural, Kalaburagi, Raichur, Koppal, Mysuru, Kolar and Chamarajanagar districts have gone unrepresented.

The lone woman minister Shashikala Jolle, who hails from Belagavi district is lobbying in New Delhi for her retention, with women MLAs Poornima Srinivas and Roopali Santosh Naik in the race. Besides Yediyurappa has to fulfil his promise given to the turncoat legislators AH Vishwanath, M T B Nagaraj and R Shankar, whom he had introduced as ‘future ministers’ while inducting them into the party.

Speaking to TNM, Katti admitted that Belagavi was over-represented. “The CM knows who is capable. I have been a minister for 13 years in all BJP CMs cabinets. Wait for another 15 days and I will be a minister,” he added.

BJP sources said the cabinet expansion was bound to cause some rumblings in the party, but ruled out any threat to Yediyurappa's leadership. “The grip Yediyurappa has on the Lingayat community cannot be disturbed, and RSS-BJP circles have calculated that in the worst-case scenario, the party will bag 70-80 seats in the next assembly elections,'' they claimed.

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