Yediyurappa’s Balancing Act
Karnataka chief minister BS Yediyurappa

Yediyurappa’s Balancing Act

The Karnataka chief minister is skating on thin ice as loyalists are upset over non-induction into his ministry

Dropping names is par for the course in politics. Just like there was a time when Indira Gandhi’s name would be dropped in Congress circles to curb dissidence, it has now become inevitable for the leaders of the BJP to drop the “central leadership” tag to send a message across.

Central leadership, as everyone knows within the BJP, is a euphemism for Amit Shah, the union home minister. He may have handed over the mantle of the party presidentship to JP Nadda but everyone knows the power behind the party throne.

And so it was not surprising when Karnataka chief minister BS Yediyurappa made the most critical statement on the eve of the induction of 10 of the 11 turncoats into his ministry almost two months after the by-elections to the assembly were held.

He said: “The central leadership of the party has directed me to induct only 10 newly elected MLAs. They have asked me to go to Delhi to discuss the induction of others later.”

In two clear sentences, Yediyurappa publicly informed the three loyalists he had planned to induct that they would not be made ministers, at least, in this round of ministry expansion.

In short, the swearing-in of Thursday was meant only for those who had “sacrificed” their assembly seats by resigning as Congress and Janata Dal Secular members, helped to bring down that coalition government and, more importantly, made him the chief minister after the humiliation of stepping down in May 2018.

And by not inducting the loyalists this time, he conveniently dropped the name of the “central leadership” to prevent the formation of an intense group of dissidents in the legislature party and, lastly, get some space to breathe, however, tough that may be in a polluted atmosphere like it currently is in Karnataka’s politics.

Nobody doubts that he had the clearance of the central leadership to pour cold water over the aspirations of the loyalists of the stature of even Umesh Katti who, again like many of those inducted into the ministry, hails from Belgavi. Katti is a veteran who has stood like a rock behind Yediyurappa during his previous tenure (2008-2011) as chief minister.

In fact, this expansion of the ministry cannot be measured even in terms of caste breakup or district break up.

Out of the 28 districts in the state, this Yediyurappa ministry has no representative from 10 districts. Belgavi district alone has four ministers when districts like Gulbarga, Raichur and Kodagu have no representation at all even though, unlike some other districts, they elected BJP legislators.

In terms of caste, among the 10 inducted today, four are Vokkaligas, two each hail from the Lingayat community and from the OBCs, and one each from the Scheduled Tribes and Brahmin caste.

As of now, the game plan appears to be to ward off trouble, at least, until June-July by which time Yediyurappa would be chief minister for a full one year. This would be enough time to assess the performance of the ministers who have been in power since July last when the BJP returned to power. And, more significantly, there would be about 18 vacancies created in the legislative council with many retiring members.

“This will give him an opportunity to accommodate leaders like AH Vishwanath and MTB Nagaraj who lost the by-elections to the assembly and bring them into the ministry. And also make a fair assessment of the loyalists who can be inducted into the ministry,” said a senior leader who did not want to be identified.

So will there be dissidence after the formal and informal communication with the promise of a better future?

As of now, it appears so. In a way, Yediyurappa has shown the “yellow” card to the soccer team on the field by uttering “central leadership” on the eve of the swearing-in ceremony. It also means that the “red card” can be shown next if there is any form of defiance.

That “red card” also means that the legislators or group of disgruntled legislators have to deal, not with Yediyurappa, but the “central leadership.” What all this means is that Yediyurappa may get some breathing space until June-July but the constant pressure to seek favours will keep the pressure on Yediyurappa constant.

And if his loyalists are to be believed, that is precisely what the central leadership would be happy with. “To weaken him as much as possible because that is the only way, it is believed, he can be eased out without much harm to the party by way of losing the support of the Lingayat social base,” as a leader pointed out in an informal conversation some time ago.

There is always an axe to grind as much as dropping of names in politics.

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