With new Cabinet, BJP asks: After Yedi, who?

With new Cabinet, BJP asks: After Yedi, who?

Karnataka Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa. File photo

The ‘new age’ Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) under the Narendra Modi- Amit Shah stewardship has spooked the Karnataka unit of the party. Nearly a month after he took over as chief minister on July 26, Yediyurappa was handed a list of 17 Cabinet ministers by the party High Command, including three deputy chief ministers (DCMs), whom he could hardly call his own.

Some would describe this as a bold and unconventional approach to the formation of the cabinet, but definitely not all, especially among the old guard, would do so. The Raj Bhavan notification of the ministry largely confirmed the rumours that had been circulating. No one, including the party faithful, had expected Govind Karjol, Dr. Ashwath Narayan and Laxman Savadi to make the cut as DCMs, leaving behind the seniors like KS Eshwarappa, R Ashok and B Sriramulu among others.

Party sources said that Yediyurappa was not keen on having any deputies, but when the leadership persisted, he suggested the name of Eshwarappa, a prominent Kuraba leader, who had served as a DCM earlier.

In fact, at the time of swearing-in itself, the party had decided on Karjol, Ashwath Narayan and Savadi as DCMs and that was the reason why they were the first three names to be called out for the oath ahead of even the former CM, Jagadish Shettar.

In search of a successor

It is now fairly clear that the Modi-Shah duo is keen on grooming a successor to Yediyurappa in Karnataka politics, as he is already on an ‘extension’ having crossed 75 years – the informal cut off age for leaders seeking elective offices in the BJP.

Karjol is a respected SC leader (he hails from the ‘left’ sect of SCs, who form the majority among Dalits) from North Karnataka. His elevation is not expected to be controversial, as he does not pose a threat to any factional leader in the party at present.

Ashwath Narayan, a medical doctor, who has won three consecutive terms from Malleshwaram in Bengaluru, has apparently caught the attention of the leadership with his organisational skills. He also played a key role during ‘Operation Kamala’ in luring Congress and JDS rebels to the BJP.

Ashwath Narayan, a Vokkaliga, has trod on the feet of R Ashok and CT Ravi, who were so far considered as frontline leaders of the community. Being a first-time minister, and a DCM to boot, Ashwath Narayan has been given an opportunity to grow politically and perhaps woo more Vokkaligas to the BJP, who have traditionally been with the Janata Dal (Secular).

Laxman Savadi’s elevation has flummoxed most people as he is not a prominent face in the Lingayat community, and moreover, had lost the election in May 2018. But, he is among those who have topped the party’s internal ranking list of performers. Considering that he is relatively young and comes from North Karnataka, he is possibly being given a chance to show his full potential.

Savadi’s promotion has shocked many prominent leaders in the party including eight-time MLA, Umesh Katti, who was not even considered for inclusion in the Cabinet.  

There are some people who suggest that Savadi will make way for Ramesh Jarkhiholi as DCM as and when Jarkhiholi and other rebels escape the yoke of disqualification and become eligible for inclusion in the Cabinet.

The BJP is indebted to Jarkhiholi for taking the lead in bringing down the Kumaraswamy-led JD(S)-Congress government and resisting all pressures and inducements from the coalition partners to return to the party fold.

The BJP is keeping 16 Cabinet berths vacant, and of the 17 rebels who are fighting their disqualification case in the Supreme Court, about a dozen are expected to join the ministry. That’s one of the reasons why Yediyurappa has retained Water Resources, Energy and Agriculture portfolios with him to be distributed later.

What about Yediyurappa’s hurt feelings? Party sources say that as his ambition of returning as CM has been fulfilled, he is unlikely to protest too much or cause any major embarrassment to the party.

As far as the disgruntled seniors in the party are considered, they have been asked to either toe the line or quit. It is believed that central leaders have even told them they have the option of dissolving the Assembly early and going for mid-term polls, if the seniors precipitated matters.

There is a view among the Central leaders that the BJP could go in for a snap poll to Karnataka Assembly along with Maharashtra, Haryana and Jharkhand due in November 2019, considering the disarray in the Congress and JD(S) camps after the fall of the Kumaraswamy government.

It appears that the experiment with the Yediyurappa government is a gamble with all options open.

(Ramakrishna Upadhya is a senior journalist based out of Bengaluru) 

(The views expressed above are the author’s own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH)