Karnataka cabinet expansion stokes dissonance, dissidence

One-third of the Karnataka cabinet berths are now occupied by Lingayaths.

By expanding his cabinet on Wednesday (January 13), Karnataka Chief Minister B. S. Yeddyurappa (BSY) may have bargained for more trouble than he intended to resolve. He is facing a rising storm of dissonance and dissent within the party which in all likelihood lead to dissidence. His 18—month reign had been a turbulent one. High Command had demonstrated its displeasure on his continuance in power despite approaching the age of 80 thereby ignoring younger aspirants. Yet they tolerated him lest the important votebank of Lingayath community slips off the BJP’s grip in the southern state.

The expansion came two months after the last by-election for two seats which the BJP won with impressive margins. The State cabinet has now 33 ministers, one shy of the designated strength. Nearly all those who helped the BJP dislodge the rickety Congress-JDS government have found a berth, except two. But there lies the rut. Old loyalists of the party who nursed it in its infancy and were instrumental in bringing it to power in the first South Indian State, have now a genuine grouse of loaves and fishes being snatched from their mouth.

BSY inducting seven new ministers, his cabinet accommodates 13 of the defectors from the previous governing coalition after they won the by-elections. Yet two of them A. H. Vishwanath and Munirathana—have failed to find a place. BSY had publicly promised to provide a ministerial berth to Munirathana during his by-election campaign. But a case of electoral irregularities have barred the CM’s hands. As for Vishwanath, he lost the by-election on BJP ticket. He was nominated for the Legislative Council for one of those seats marked for professionals from the field of Art, Sports, Cinema and Literature. But Vishwanath is an unrestrained critic of the BJP’s policies. He praises Tipu Sultan and talks of corruption within the party. He can barely remain silent. He is all likely to remain without a ministerial berth. 

BSY is now facing the storm from a fresh set of disgruntled MLAs. They cite his age (he will be 80 soon). Some of them have alleged that he inducted three such MLAs who were blackmailing him through a mysterious CD with damaging proof of corruption against him. Leading the charge is Basanagouda Patil Yatna, MLA from Vijayapura (Bijapur). Yatnal is a former union minister too. He has been the chief bête noire of the CM. Another set of a dozen MLAs has alleged that he allocated Rs. 83 crore to Lingayath Mutts to rebel against the BJP if he was dethroned as the State CM.

Whatever may be the machinations of the BSY to stay in power, it is true that he is the tallest leader of Lingayaths in the State and the party can afford to replace him only at the cost of a major convulsion. He exploits this position to the hilt and dictates terms to the High Command. Besides age bar, his dynastic proclivities too are being ignored. Currently, besides himself being the CM, his elder son Raghavendra is the MP from Shivamogga (Shimoga earlier) and younger son Vijeyendra is vice president of the State Party. His detractors do not spare any chance to point out the monopolisation of so much power in a triumvirate from a single family. It is pointed out that a good chunk of work is delegated through the younger son.

The expanded cabinet lacks the homogenous mix of the social diversity of the State. Lingayaths have 11, a clear third, of the cabinet berths. Next seven berths go to Vokkaligas, the second largest community concentrated in southern part of the State. Kurubas take four (6% of population). So are the SCs. OBCs, the main vote bank of the Congress gets only three berths. Muslims and Christians (together 16% of population) have none as the BJP has no members from these communities. Thirteen ministers represent Bengaluru Urban and Belgavi (previous Belgaum) districts. Of the total 30 districts in the State, ten have no representation in the cabinet.

Notable among the new ministers are MTB Nagaraj, Umesh Katti and Murugesh Nirani. Nagaraj is the richest legislator in the State. He defected in 2018 from Congress to BJP. Following this his bank deposits reported a rise of Rs. 48 crore in a week. He was fielded by the BJP from Hosakote and he was trounced by a BJP rebel. Katti is an 8-time MLA and had even claimed chief ministership. He hails from Panchamsali sect of Lingayaths. (CM BSY is from Banajiga sect). Nirani is an industrialist and was formerly Industries Minister in the previous BSY cabinet. Lingayath lobby had been canvassing for his induction.

Though BSY has firmed up his grip on the Government as its appears now. But there are straws in the wind that the High Command is trying to give him free hand in order that he stokes more dissidence within the party and paves ground for a ruse to show him the door. Caught between the estranged old loyalists and blessed new entrants, omens are not positive. It is to be seen how these fault lines progress.

M A Siraj is senior journalist based in Bengaluru. He writes for several publications in the country.

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