On the surface, three deputy chief ministers are to keep caste groups happy but the reality to check Yediyurappa
The central leadership of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) appears to have used an idea from the country’s newest chief minister to keep the oldest war horse of its own party, chief minister BS Yediyurappa of Karnataka, under control.
Karnataka now has three deputy chief ministers in Govind Karjol, Laxman Savadi and Dr CN Aswathnarayana, belonging to three different caste groups, just like Andhra Pradesh chief minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy inducted five deputy chief ministers to keep that many caste and religious groups happy.
The three-month-old chief minister of Andhra Pradesh can, perhaps, pat himself on the back because his idea has been picked up by the two most powerful men in the country, national BJP president and union home minister Amit Shah and the organisational general secretary of the party, BL Santosh.
And to frustrate the party’s tallest leader in Karnataka, the central leadership of the party took exactly 25 days to clear his proposal for the formation of the cabinet.
They took exactly one month to permit the 76-year-old to formally write to Governor Vajubhai Vala to allocate the portfolios.
Of course, there was just one politically valid reason to have the ministry at just 50% of the permitted 34 members.
The party was hoping the Supreme Court would last week decide the fate of the 17 disqualified Congress and JDS MLAs who brought down the HD Kumaraswamy headed coalition government.
The party’s central leadership, more or less, permitted Yediyurappa to have his say in the formation of the ministry. But, when it cleared his proposal, it issued a list that placed Karjol, Savadi and Dr Ashwathnarayana ahead of senior party leaders like two former deputy chief ministers KS Eshwarappa and R Ashoka as well as a former chief minister Jagdish Shettar.
Even as Yediyurappa’s supporters were rejoicing over the effortlessness involved in Yediyurappa having his way with the central leadership, a bland statement came from the party that Naveen Kumar Kateel, MP from Mangaluru, had been appointed as the state president to replace Yediyurappa.
That was the first indicator that the party organisation had been handed over to someone who would be primarily utilised by the central leadership to keep the autocratic Yediyurappa under check.
Kateel’s appointment was described by the irrepressible Basangouda Patil Yatnal, as – “He needs to first get out of Mangaluru and see the rest of the state.”
But the problem that Yediyurappa faced in the formation of the ministry was that some of those who have stood by him through his most difficult times - Umesh Katti for instance - have been left out.
This was because Yediyurappa had to accommodate one candidate who had the backing, whisper senior partymen, of none other than Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
That candidate was Savadi who has the unique distinction, like the late Arun Jaitley, of having lost the assembly election last year to the state assembly.
“He hails from the Ganiga Lingayat community which has a sizeable population not just in his Athani constituency but also in the districts of Maharashtra that abut the Karnataka boundary. In the last election, he was the party observer there and has a good record. Please remember his sect among the Lingayats is the oil crushing community and you will understand the significance,” said a senior leader on condition of anonymity.
Again it is a different matter that Savadi was one among the three ministers in the then Yediyurappa ministry to have been sacked in February 2012 because they were caught on camera watching porn clips when a debate on a serious issue was being discussed in the assembly.
“He has been inducted because of his caste and the influence he commands in the border areas of the two states,” said another leader, again, on condition of anonymity.
But the basic issue that is upsetting party leaders is not the appointment of Karjol as the deputy chief minister. Karjol is much respected for his clean image and loyalty. He hails from Mudhol (SC) constituency in the northern Karnataka district of Bagalkot and belongs to the “Left” sect among the Scheduled Castes.
This is the sect, politically and educationally weaker unlike the powerful “Right” sect among the Scheduled Castes, and is spread in large numbers across Mumbai-Karnataka and Hyderabad-Karnataka districts.
It is this sect that Yediyurappa made inroads into in 2008 when he single-handedly brought the BJP to power in Karnataka.
The problem is with the nomination of Savadi and Dr Aswathanarayana as deputy chief ministers. Savadi was minister for a short while but Dr Aswathanarayana has no ministerial experience despite being a candidate in the city of Bengaluru who was physically blessed by the voters in his constituency because of his amiable nature and work.
From the party’s perspective, the reasoning is fairly clear. “Look, the party has chosen three persons to expand their base and become the second line of leadership. Currently, we have none after Yediyurappa who can even be regional leaders. Dr Aswathanarayana comes from the Vokkaliga community who can build a base in the Vokkaliga belt from Mandya to Hassan,” said a senior party leader on condition of anonymity.
On the other side is also the apprehension that if Yediyurappa is pushed to a corner, he is quite capable of launching his own regional outfit like he had done in 2012.
The Karnataka Janata Paksha (KJP) had scored a remarkable 12% vote share and neatly reduced the BJP to a mere 40 seats.
Nevertheless, for “the time being,” the message to Yediyurappa is clear. “We will keep a close watch on you and your activities. It is your responsibility to keep dissidence under control and manage the situation,” as one leader who spoke strictly on condition of anonymity put it.
After all, the party has given the most important portfolios to members from his community. One deputy chief minister (Savadi), Home (Basavaraj Bommai), industries (Jagdish Shettar), law and parliamentary affairs and minor irrigation (JC Madhuswamy) and mines (CC Patil).