Several BJP leaders have openly expressed their disillusionment in not being given ministerial berths, giving rise to speculation of a rebellion within the party.

Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa sitting in his office PTI
news Politics Wednesday, January 13, 2021 - 19:13

Yet another cabinet expansion in Karnataka and yet again, legislators who missed the bus crying foul, making accusatory statements against the Chief Minister. This routine has been almost normalised in Karnataka over many years, particularly since Yediyurappa came back to power for the second time. But Yediyurappa has the impossible task of pleasing all in his party, something most Chief Ministers face but he in particular has been plagued with. 

First among several leaders to criticise Yediyurappa was Bommanahalli BJP MLA Satish Reddy. In a tweet, he said, “What is the criteria for selecting candidates who are eligible for ministerial berths? Did you (referring to Yediyurappa) not find any young leaders from our party and the state to induct into the cabinet? We are experiencing the loss of Ananth Kumar (late Bengaluru South MP), more so now, as he used to take our concerns into account.” 

Speaking to TNM, Satish Reddy said, “Our concern was that young people should have been given an opportunity to become ministers. This is the first time five MLCs have been made ministers. These people did not win elections like many young leaders did,” he said. Soon after Satish Reddy’s statement caused a stir, several other leaders openly criticised Yediyurappa for his decision to keep them out of the cabinet. 

Satish Reddy opens can of worms

BJP MLC AH Vishwanath said he was “extremely hurt” by Yediyurappa’s decision to keep him out of the cabinet. He also openly questioned why CP Yogeeshwar was given a ministerial berth. “They said Munirathna (Rajarajeshwari Nagar MLA) had criminal cases against him. Does CP Yogeeshwar not have criminal cases against him? He is a cheater. He has cheated so many people in real estate. Were you stuck because of blackmail?” AH Vishwanath said while adding that the cabinet is imbalanced and heavily in favour of the Lingayat community. He noted that the cabinet has 13 leaders from the Verashaiva-Lingayat community and accused Yediyurappa of “forgetting” leaders from the Dalit, Adivasi, OBC and Minority communities.

Bijapur City MLA Basangouda Patil Yatnal said that the decision to keep party loyalists out of the cabinet marked “the end” to Yediyurappa’s political career. “Mark my words now. This will be the end of Yediyurappa and his son Vijayendra. They have been going around saying they have the support of the Lingayat community. This is a state where there is no opposition. We all know what agreements have been made. Yediyurappa’s friends are Siddaramaiah, DK Shivakumar and KJ George. The opposition has collapsed,” Basangouda Patil Yatnal said. 

He criticised Yediyurappa’s decision to recommend Bilgi MLA Murgesh Nirani’s name to the list of candidates eligible for the cabinet expansion. Basangouda Yatnal recalled the incident in 2020, where Murugesh Nirani had forwarded a meme that criticised Hindu gods and said that an “anti-Hindu leader” was prioritised. It is to be noted that Murugesh Nirani had issued an apology, stating that he had forwarded the picture without seeing its content, by “assuming” it was a devotional message. 

“What was the need to give a ministerial berth to a person who criticised Hindu gods? If such people are being given ministerial berths, then it is clear that it is the beginning of the downfall for Yediyurappa,” he said. 

Among the other disgruntled leaders are Yediyurappa’s political advisor and Honnali legislator Renukacharya, Ballari MLA G Somashekara Reddy and Harappanahalli MLA Karunakar Reddy, while the leaders did not express their concerns openly, they said that they were unhappy about not being inducted into the cabinet. 

Catch 22 for Yediyurappa

Disillusionment is not new to political leaders who have missed opportunities to become ministers but in Karnataka’s case, such open rebellions have more often than not resulted in resort politics and coups that have dislodged governments. While the rift between the newly-inducted leaders, who were previously with the Congress and JD(S), and the party old-timers is not new, the new spurt of rebellion has brought back one crucial observation: That Yediyurappa cannot please everyone. 

The Karnataka cabinet has 33 seats including that of the Chief Minister. Legislators compete for these berths and while there may be several experienced politicians in the BJP, who were aspirants, one crucial element, to the party coming to power, became a deterrent to the decisions taken in appointing ministers to the cabinet. 

In August 2019, when Yediyurappa announced a list of cabinet ministers, there seemed to be a perceived consensus within the party that the 17 rebels would be given ministerial berths as they were responsible for bringing down the Congress-JD(S) coalition. While 15 of the 17 rebels have been giving ministerial berths, this limited the opportunities for indigenous BJP leaders. The rift within the party began developing when Yediyurappa chose to keep his promises, which angered the party loyalists, who felt they were not rewarded for their hard work. With the number of berths being limited, Yediyurappa faced pushback from his own coterie including Umesh Katti and Murugesh Nirani. 

When the internal rift began growing in 2020, several leaders including Basangouda Patil Yatnal had stated that Yediyurappa’s son Vijayendra is the “Super CM”, and that the Chief Minister was only interested in safeguarding the political careers of his family members. A faction of BJP leaders had turned against Yediyurappa, who was pushed into a situation of safeguarding his own interests. In order to quell the rebellion, Yediyurappa had to ensure that the 17 former Congress and JD(S) leaders were loyal to him alone. And thereby he began lobbying for ministerial berths to favour his interests.

Yediyurappa had to compromise by letting go of his promises to RR Nagar MLA Munirathna Naidu and MLC AH Vishwanath and make way for leaders like CP Yogeeshwar and S Anagara, as party loyalists too had to find a place in the cabinet. With BJP leaders looking for a replacement for the 77-year-old Yediyurappa, he also had the task of ensuring that he had the full support of the Veerashaiva-Lingayat community and thereby appointed 13 leaders from the community into his cabinet. 

The issue of cabinet expansion has put Yediyurappa in a catch 22 situation. If Yediyurappa had not kept his promises to the 17 newly-inducted leaders, sources said that they could have rebelled again and Yediyurappa would have lost the loyalty he tried to gain from a huge chunk of MLAs in the party. On the other hand, not prioritising the party loyalists has now roused an open rebellion. The larger question is: Will the party quell it or are resort politics on the cards once again?

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