Karnataka chief minister B S Yediyurappa faces fresh rebellion wave

BJP watchers claim that all south Indian states where the BJP is looking to expand itself, are watching how the BJP in Karnataka treats new entrants
Dissidence against Karnataka Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa is full-blown and out in the open, again. All Cabinet expansions lead to heartburn on part of those left out. The 77-year-old Lingayat strongman of Karnataka BJP had been petitioning the Centre for permission to induct more MLAs as ministers for months. When the expansion finally took place, it brought the chief minister jeers and brickbats. Bommanahalli BJP MLA Satish Reddy said in a tweet: “What are 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?” The unkindest cut was the MLA’s observation: “We are experiencing the loss of Ananth Kumar (late Bengaluru South MP), more so now, as he used to take our concerns into account.”

It was not just that young leaders felt they had been given the go by. Stalwarts, including leaders like long time loyalist, Yediyurappa’s political advisor and Honnali legislator Renukacharya, Ballari MLA G Somashekara Reddy and Harappanahalli MLA Karunakar Reddy, too, felt they had been treated unfairly.  Senior MLA from Krishnaraja constituency S A Ramadass said he had been serving the party for 28 years. "Injustice has happened to old Mysuru region,” he said.

A Yediyurappa supporter said: “Yes, it is hard to contest the charge that the council of ministers is unbalanced. But you have to go deeper to understand why long-time BJP supporters have been kept waiting.”

Turncoats get lion’s share

The Karnataka council of ministers was expanded on January 13 and seven MLAs were inducted as ministers. They were: M T B Nagaraj, Umesh Katti, Aravind Limbavali, Murugesh Nirani, R Shankar, C P Yogeeshwara, and Angara S.

 An analysis of the Cabinet as it stands today reveals:

  • 10 MLAs who resigned from the Congress, joined the BJP and won their seats have become ministers.
  • Two MLAs who joined BJP (one of them lost MLA seat, another did not contest) were made MLCs and ministers
  • One BJP leader who lost the Assembly election but played a key role in persuading MLAs from other parties to defect to the BJP was made MLC and minister

One thing is clear — those who crossed over to the BJP, enabling it to form the government have got the lion’s share of ministerships. Twelve of 33 ministers are those who joined the BJP from other parties relatively recently.

“Did BSY have a choice?” countered a BSY supporter. “You tied his hands behind his back before the Assembly elections. Despite that, BSY was able to form a government. You prevented the party’s organic growth. When it grew inorganically, why blame him?”

Today the BJP has 118 MLAs in a House of 224. But this was not always the case. In the 2018 elections, the BJP fell nine MLAs short of a majority and stopped at 104. 

This much is true: In 2016, when Yediyurappa was made party president he had to manage enormous friction within his party. K S Eshwarappa from the Kuruba (shepherd) caste went to great lengths to mobilise his caste, offering it as a social coalition to fight the might of both Lingayats (Yediyurappa) and Vokkaligas (H D Deve Gowda). Sadananda Gowda, a Vokkaliga and Jagadish Shettar, a fellow Lingayat, had many complaints. They found a sympathetic ear in B L Santhosh, the coordinator between the RSS and the BJP in the state.

Then came the 2018 Assembly election. The JD(S) and Congress cobbled together a precarious coalition which broke down with some elbow grease by the BJP. Yediyurappa assumed what he felt was his rightful place. He became chief minister.

But a price had to be paid, and promises had to be fulfilled. The price was paid by BJP oldtimers. It was the cost of inorganic growth. There’s now a clutch of BJP MLAs with four to five terms in the Assembly who can see that they will never become ministers.

BSY supporters said this would never have happened if BSY’s detractors in the party had been dealt with firmly in the first place. “There are reasons why the BJP fell short of a majority in the Assembly in 2018. The leadership has to address those reasons,” a supporter said. While there is no mention of B L Santhosh and others in the central party, the indication is clear: The central BJP fanned flames against BSY, weakening him, as a result of which the BJP had to engineer defections to be able to form a government.

BJP watchers claim that all south Indian states where the BJP is looking to expand itself, are watching how the BJP in Karnataka treats new entrants. 

Yediyurappa supporters are drawing solace from the fact that Home Minister Amit Shah’s visit to Karnataka last week saw him lavishing praise on the CM, not just for winning 14 of the 17 by-elections but also his work on Covid-19 management.

So while dissidents are airing their disappointment quite openly, for the moment they have beat a tactical retreat. However, the Yediyurappa camp is realistic enough to recognise that this is temporary. His predicament is also a bigger question for the BJP generally: How high a price is it ready to pay to form governments?

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