Bengaluru: In February this year, Karnataka Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa tendered an unconditional apology to the Panchamasali sect of Lingayats and referred their demands for reservation to the State Backward Classes Commission. Just hours earlier, he had said that he didn’t have the powers to take a call on the quota demand and that it was for the central government to decide.
A month earlier, the chief minister had promised to ban all mining and quarrying, after an explosion at an illegal mine in Shivamogga left six people dead, only to backtrack and assert that such activity just needs to be regularised.
And, at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, Yediyurappa did a volte-face on at least four different occasions, including famously putting on hold the inter-state movement of migrant workers, at the behest of builders, before reversing the decision 24 hours later.
Such constant flip-flops, ever since he assumed power in July 2019 has earned the Yediyurappa regime the moniker, the “U-turn government”.
In his over 20-month tenure, the Karnataka chief minister has rolled back at least 12 major government orders or decisions, almost all of them due to public pressure or coercion from his own cabinet.
While it has earned flak from political experts and the opposition, even the chief minister’s BJP colleagues are now admitting that it is causing the party and the government severe embarrassment.
A senior minister in the government who did not want to be named said that while there was nothing wrong in rolling back decisions, it was now “happening way too often”.
“The government should be more careful while taking decisions or it could cause embarrassment,” the minister said.
A senior BJP functionary highlighted that apart from government decisions, the chief minister had to reshuffle his cabinet four times in five days in January this year, owing to pressure from turncoat MLAs who won the bye-elections.
“He should have tried to convince the new ministers that he would reshuffle their portfolios after they performed well,” the senior BJP functionary said. “It is an unhealthy trend of letting dissenting leaders forcing his hand.”
Experts blamed the flip-flops on different “power centres” in the state. “This government is nothing but a U-turn government,” political analyst Mahadev Prakash to ThePrint. “This has happened because there are two power centres, one run by the CM and the other by his family. This has affected his decision-making process.”
Leader of Opposition, the Congress’ Siddaramaiah, was sympathetic to the chief minister, who he said was tied down by the BJP high command.
“He is a good leader, but an indecisive one,” Siddaramaiah said. “He has had to follow Delhi’s diktat. He is a very experienced administrator but his hands are tied by his bosses. So any decision he takes on his own, may be reversed if the Central leadership disapproves.”
The chief minister’s flip-flops
A classic instance of Yediyurappa facing the heat due to his flip-flops has been with the reservation demand of the Panchamasalis.
The Panchamasalis are the largest sect of the Lingayat community which votes in favour of the BJP. The influential Lingayats constitute 16-17 per cent of Karnataka’s population.
While Yediyurappa is himself a Lingayat, he belongs to the Veerashaiva sub-sect.
The Panchamasalis want ‘2A’ status in reservations, which would entitle them to 15 per cent quotas in government jobs and education. As of now, they are in the ‘3B’ category, which entitles them to 5 per cent reservation.
The chief minister and his government are in a spot — not ceding to the demands could anger the Panchamasalis but enhancing their reservation could antagonise other Lingayat sects. Yediyurappa has now promised to address the issue though he has said in the House that he could do nothing about the demand.
This after the community took out a massive protest against the chief minister, and even launched an agitation, which it has now temporarily withdrawn.
One possible way out of this quandary is to accord OBC status to the whole Lingayat community, which Yediyurappa’s BJP government is trying to do but its own party high command is not in favour of such a move.
“The Panchamsalis are certainly an influential vote-bank and their demand has been a long-standing one,” said a minister from the Lingayat community. “Whether Yediyurappaji can deliver the promise is a tough answer, but he certainly has been trying his best.”
Indecisiveness through the Covid pandemic
The chief minister’s indecisiveness was chiefly evident in the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic. Four major decisions were rolled back during the Covid-19 lockdown and just after it was lifted.
The government first allowed the movement of two-wheelers and opening up of the Information Technology (IT) offices with one-third of the workforce.
The decision was to come into effect from 20 April 2020 but just a day before, the government revoked the decision on “the advice of the cabinet ministers and heads of IT companies”.
Then on Labour Day (1 May) of 2020, Yediyurappa announced that migrant labourers would have to pay for buses ferrying them. Private bus operators began charging double the fare and soon the government came under fire for being “insensitive and heartless”. The decision was reversed the very next day on 2 May, 2020.
“He had no other choice but to reverse his decision. It was inhuman to charge those who were jobless and had no money to even go home,” Karnataka Congress president D.K. Shivakumar told ThePrint. He was bleeding them to death with his decisions.”
“We put pressure on the government to act for the sake of humanity, or else he would have blood on his hands,” the senior Congress leader added.
Another decision that boomeranged on the chief minister was his decision to first stop and then allow inter-state movement of migrant workers by train.
Yediyurappa enforced a travel ban on 6 May 2020, a day after he met with a real estate delegation that advised him letting migrants go home would severely hamper developmental, construction and other industrial activities. He reversed the ban after facing flak from several quarters.
Even at the start of the lockdown, the chief minister came in for heavy criticism after first stating that the government-run Indira Canteens would provide free food to all daily-wage workers, before backtracking.
The decision, taken on 23 March, was quickly reversed in 24 hours over fear of the Covid-19 spreading through them.
Public pressure and accusations of being insensitive forced Yediyurappa to reopen the canteens for paid meals on 3 May 2020.
(Edited by Arun Prashanth)